A “significant” amount of toxic and radioactive waste is likely being dumped illegally in Ontario because the province isn’t keeping a close enough watch on generators of hazardous waste, Ontario’s auditor general said today.
Jim McCarter told The Canadian Press that 900 hazardous waste generators haven’t officially reported any dumping in three years, but ministry inspectors haven’t followed up to see where this toxic waste has gone.
“Hazardous waste is basically being dumped some place where it shouldn’t be dumped and it’s not being treated,” McCarter said a day after his annual report was released. “That certainly is a risk to the environment.”
The Environment Ministry has rules governing the disposal of hazardous waste, but McCarter said those rules don’t seem to be enforced.
Although McCarter said his 2002 audit pointed out problems with monitoring and inspecting hazardous waste disposal, he said there hasn’t been “substantive improvement” since then.
It appears uncertified carriers are likely transporting waste because the province isn’t keeping a close enough eye on them, he said. In some cases, there is a discrepancy between the amount of hazardous waste being shipped and the amount actually received, McCarter said.
“The ministry inspector should go out there and find out what’s happening,” he said. “The obvious question is, where did it go? It didn’t vanish into thin air. There could be valid reasons but we’re saying the data in the computer poses a lot of these questions, and they should be following up on some of this.”
Despite the difficulty in enforcing Ontario’s environmental laws, McCarter said taxpayers are on the hook for the hazardous waste program. Although fees from hazardous waste generators were intended to pay for the program, McCarter said the province is spending $30 million but has received only $12 million in return.
Neither Environment Minister John Gerretsen nor Premier Dalton McGuinty were in the legislature Wednesday to answer questions about hazardous waste. When McGuinty was questioned about the dumping of hazardous waste in the legislature Tuesday, he said the ministry is responding to every recommendation from the auditor.
“I know the minister of the environment looks forward to continuing to make additional progress when it comes to treating hazardous waste in the province of Ontario,” McGuinty said, adding the Liberals have followed through on the majority of the auditor’s past recommendations.
“There is always more work to be done, still more progress to be made.”
Rick Smith, executive director with Environmental Defence, said the Liberals have a long way to go. At a time when people’s environmental expectations are at an “all-time high,” Smith said the Environment Ministry is underfunded and understaffed, making law enforcement virtually impossible.
The ministry appears to be further crippled by computer problems and difficulty in electronically tracking hazardous waste, he added.
“This is clearly not up to snuff,” Smith said. “This should be a no-brainer. This is called hazardous waste for a reason. These are highly toxic substances being shipped around the province. The government has an obligation to do a better job.”
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said McCarter’s conclusions are “shocking” and should spur the Liberals into action.
“This is an urgent situation,” he said. “There is literally tons of toxic goop not accounted for here and people not being inspected or monitored. You have to ask yourself, how many tons of toxic goop have to go missing and end up heaven knows where before the Liberals will take some responsibility?”
Some people applying for provincial certification have been waiting for years, Tory said, and clearing that backlog should be a priority.
New Democrat Peter Tabuns said the Liberals have been told for years that their Environment Ministry doesn’t have enough money to enforce the law.
“This is a government that seems to be very fond of passing new laws that everybody knows won’t get enforced,” he said.