Media Release

Pollution Spills to Environment Are Growing Crisis

Prominent environmental groups urge immediate action

May 11 2005

Toronto, Ontario – Industrial spills of pollutants to the environment are a growing crisis, according to data released by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Environmental Defence and Sierra Legal Defence Fund. Reported spills from large industrial facilities increased by 13% from 2003 to 2004 and ranged in volume from less than 1 litre to over 18,000,000 litres (equivalent to 900 tanker trucks). In addition to the increase in the number of spills by large industrial facilities, the average volume of a liquid industrial spill increased by 250% and the average weight of a solid industrial spill increased by about 400%. The groups report the data as Bill 133, the Environmental Enforcement Statute Law Amendment Act (or the ‘Spills Bill') , heads to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly for public hearings this week. “This industrial spills problem has persisted for years and it is about time that government took decisive action,” says Paul Muldoon, Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association. “Bill 133 is a positive step in the right direction.” Bill 133 allows the Ministry of the Environment to impose stiff penalties against large companies causing spills. The bill also unifies and clarifies the threshold as to when the Ministry can impose a penalty and prosecute. Under existing provincial legislation, a prosecutor has to prove that environmental or public health harm is “likely” to occur. Bill 133 reduces the threshold so that it is sufficient if harm “may” occur. To be effective, Bill 133 must be extended and strengthened, the groups say:

  • Expand Section 18, which allows Ministry of the Environment officials to require facilities to develop and implement plans to prevent and reduce pollution. These plans should be mandatory for all facilities covered under the bill and expanded to mandate planning to reduce emissions and provide reporting on measures to prevent pollution overall.
  • Require the Ministry of the Environment to provide annual reports on the operation of Bill 133 as well as prosecutions.
  • Make public all settlement agreements (an agreement between the facility and the Ministry of the Environment that is negotiated after a penalty has been imposed).
  • Provide assurances that the bill will be expanded in a phased-in fashion to other sectors (such as smaller facilities and the transportation sector).
  • “Industrial pollution spills in Ontario are now as common as potholes in the spring,” says Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence. “This bill doesn't go far enough. It needs to be expanded and then passed as soon as possible, with a guarantee that, over time, it will apply to more sectors.”

The groups are aware of an intense lobby by some of the worst polluting companies to take the teeth out of the bill. “We expect a lot of opposition to the bill by those polluting companies that don't like the idea of a level playing field,” says Rob Wright, Managing Lawyer, Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “The clearer thresholds for imposing penalties and making polluters pay are no threat to corporations that act responsibly.”  - 30 -For more information, please contact:  Paul Muldoon, Canadian Environmental Law Association, (416) 960-2284 ext. 219; (416) 371-3219 (cell)  Rick Smith, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 225; (416) 670-9521 (cell)  Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)  Rob Wright, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, (416) 368-7533 ext. 31  Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, (416) 368-7533 ext. 27