Canadian companies in the Great Lakes basin are releasing more cancer-causing pollutants into the air than their U.S. counterparts, a new report suggests.
The report, released Wednesday by environmental groups from both sides of the border, says Canadian facilities emitted on average almost three times more known carcinogens per facility than their U.S. counterparts.
Fe de Leon of the Canadian Environmental Law Association says the difference is even more remarkable when one considers there were far fewer Canadian than U.S. facilities reporting data on such chemicals.
“It took us by surprise when saw it pop up,” she says of the data.
The comparison is based on a matched set of 2007 data provided to the Canadian National Pollutant Release Inventory and the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory.
In total, four million kilograms of substances considered to be known carcinogens were released to the air in 2007, from matched facilities in the United States and Canada.
Those toxic substances include chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene.
De Leon says the report raises important questions about whether Ottawa is doing enough to keep such toxins out of the environment.
“The government needs to make a better commitment – a stronger commitment to reducing pollution levels overall but certainly focusing on phasing out and eliminating those chemicals that are either persistent or toxic chemicals that have significant health effects,” she said.
Mike Layton, a spokesman for the group Environmental Defence, which collaborated with de Leon’s group on the project, said the report shows Canada is a large part of the problem.
“In the Canadian numbers for some of these chemicals, they’re well beyond what we’re seeing coming from the United States, particularly with air releases from carcinogens.”
“So we’re in fact with less facilities producing more of these things and releasing them into the air.”
According to the report, Lake Erie – which includes Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River and the Detroit River in its watershed – had the highest levels of releases to air of known carcinogens.
Layton said the report should cause the Canadian government to get serious on the issue and take a leadership role.
“We’re in this process of re-evaluating and re-negotiating the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement,” he said, referring to the U.S.-Canada deal on protecting and restoring the Great Lakes.
“We hope that (the report) will get a reaction from government to start taking that negotiation more seriously and to really step up its position.”