Mike Oliviera, CP
TORONTO – North America’s biggest industrial polluters are taking public concern about the environment to heart and reducing emissions, but their efforts are being undermined by higher levels of pollution from smaller companies, a new report suggests.
The release of harmful chemicals in Canada and the United States declined by 15 per cent between 1998 and 2004, thanks in large part to efforts by some of the continent’s worst environmental offenders, says the report by the Commission for Environmental Co-operation – an international organization created in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Interestingly, this general and continuing reduction is being driven by a group of industrial facilities who happen to be the largest generators of emissions,” said Evan Lloyd, the commission’s program director.
“But among those small-and medium-sized emitters . . . we’re seeing somewhat of a contrast and in some instances, some fairly significant increases.”
Of the more than 23,000 facilities that were studied for the report, the 50 worst polluters contributed about 19 per cent of the continent’s pollution.
But those companies are generally reducing their emissions, while thousands of smaller polluters are cumulatively destroying the overall progress being made, the report concludes.
“While it is encouraging that the group of ‘largest’ reporters shows decreases in releases and transfers (of toxic chemicals), it is of concern that the other facilities do not,” the report states.
“To really make progress in reducing pollution, all . . . groups should be showing decreases.”
The time has come to focus anti-pollution efforts on other, smaller offenders, said Aaron Freeman, policy director for the advocacy group Environmental Defence.
“There’s always a lag time in terms of public pressure and government action and actual results, and what we’re seeing is the results of big polluters like INCO responding to public pressure by reducing their emissions,” Freeman said.
The report also suggests there is a clear link between implementing pollution prevention and getting results, Freeman added, so companies should be looking to techniques like product and process redesign, spill and leak detection, and substituting raw materials to make their own impact.
“There’s no doubt, we know that the technology works,” he said.
“There’s also a business case for many of these companies to reduce their pollution, many of these pollution reductions are actually coming at no net cost or even at a profit for the company.”
While the report also notes that industrial recycling has increased due to increases in production and scrap metal prices, it’s not necessarily good news, said Fe de Leon, a researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
Trucking and processing recyclable goods can sometimes add to pollution totals and negate the environmental benefits of reusing materials, she said.
“It speaks to the need to prevent some of the pollution that’s going in in the first place,” she said.
“If you look at the list of chemicals that are being reported under these programs, a few of them are considered toxic.”
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