More than eight months after receiving a consultant's report on the environmental soundness of 105 Canadian waste transfer stations, Environment Canada revealed the results only after an Access to Information request was filed by Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith (204-943-7354).
As of Sept. 7, 2004, the report still was not available on the agency's Web site. But according to Smith's article, the findings are worrisome.
Problems, especially at smaller facilities, include improper handling of waste and resulting emissions into the environment; poor or nonexistent emergency response plans; inadequate operational procedures; poor employee training; and poor record keeping. Only 60 of 105 had "a formal method for including environmental concerns in business decisions," Smith noted. Another 130 companies declined to respond to requests for information about their operations.
The consultant who prepared the report, Murali Ganapathy of Senes Consultants Limited (905-764-9380 x350, email), also said the regulatory framework is weak, with the provinces having varying requirements and Environment Canada largely powerless to enforce standards.
Some of the problem can be attributed to the surge in imported waste from the US during the mid-to-late 1990s, due to more lax rules in Canada, says Mark Winfield, director of environmental governance at the Pembina Institute (416-978-5656, email). Testing of emissions at transfer sites has been minimal, he adds, and the overall waste situation, including "feeble" standards and facility operators going into bankruptcy, "is a mess," he says.
However, Quebec upgraded its rules a little in 2001, Ontario may soon adopt more stringent rules, and the federal government may also slightly upgrade its rules soon, he says.
Environment Canada's media relations staff say the agency likely won't post the report ("A Study of Hazardous Waste Transfer Facilities in Canada") on its Web site any time soon. However, it may be possible to get it from media staff (819-953-4016). If that fails, an expedited "piggyback" Access to Information request may work, Smith says. The agency Access-to-Information contact person is Helen Ryan; media contact is Sebastien Bois (EC phone 819-953-2743, fax 819-953-0749). You can download the report here as soon as it becomes available to WatchDog; computer problems have prevented us from posting it immediately.