Ontario to reduce industrial toxics use, find green alternatives

Ontario is helping its manufacturing and industrial sectors use fewer toxic substances and move to greener, healthier alternatives. As part of the province's Toxics Reduction Strategy, the Ontario government introduced legislation on April 7, 2009 that, if passed, would require regulated facilities to:

•     Track and evaluate their current use and release of toxics
•     Develop a plan to reduce the use and release of toxics, and
•     Make a summary of the plan available to the public.

Should Bill 167, the proposed Toxics Reduction Act, 2009, be passed, the province would be investing $24 million to help support Ontario's industries transform their processes, find green chemistry alternatives and reduce the use of toxics in their operations.

The Toxics Reduction Strategy aims to find a balance between protecting human health and the environment, and supporting the transformation of businesses to the green economy. The strategy also includes providing financial and technical support to industry, focusing on smaller businesses, and informing Ontarians about toxics.

Opportunities for collaboration on research into the health implications of environmental toxics in specific regions of the province are being explored by the ministries of Environment, Health and Long-Term Care, and Cancer Care Ontario.

The strategy is built upon the recommendations of the Toxics Reduction Scientific Expert Panel and consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, including Cancer Care Ontario and the Ontario Medical Association.  The strategy augments the traditional "end of pipe" approach to managing chemical releases by placing a new focus on reducing the use of these substances at the front end of industrial processes.

The legislation sets out a framework for toxics reduction action by facilities.  It would require facilities to track and quantify the toxics they use and create, to develop plans to reduce toxics, and to report to the government.  This information would be available to the public, while respecting business confidentiality.  

Toxics reduction planning is a proven approach to reducing toxics use while allowing businesses to identify operational efficiencies, costs savings and opportunities to improve their competitive advantage in markets which are increasingly demanding greener products.

The bill would allow the Ontario government to collect information from facilities on substances of concern, which are substances potentially harmful to human health and the environment for which little data is currently available.

It also includes regulation-making authority to prohibit or regulate the manufacture, sale or distribution of a toxic substance or consumer products that contain the substance and to require the manufacturer, seller or distributor to provide notice to the public.

As the first course of action, Ontario would continue to work with the federal government to promote the use of existing federal powers to deal with toxics in consumer products. These new authorities would position the ministry to take action to protect Ontarians, if necessary.  Consultation with stakeholders and the public would take place prior to the development of any regulation under these new authorities.

Details would be spelled out in regulations, including the list of toxic substances, the substances of concern and facilities to be covered, as well as timelines for planning and reporting.  Development of regulations would involve consultations with stakeholders and the public.

The bill is available on the Environmental Registry at www.ebr.gov.on.ca (registry # 010-6224) for public comment until May 7, 2009.