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Province’s air quality standards are not airtight

Wednesday, September 22nd 2010 11:41:17am

For Immediate Release

Province’s air quality standards are not airtight

Toronto, 22 September 2010 – A recent change to Ontario’s air pollution regulation allows the government to exempt whole sectors of industry from tougher provincial air quality standards, says Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario in his 2009/2010 annual report released today.  

Depending on how the Ministry of the Environment uses its new powers, the Commissioner says the province’s carefully developed air quality standards could be undermined. “Ontario’s approach to regulating air emissions is generally reasonable,” says Miller, “but, to ensure protection of our airsheds, the government must be sure to use its powers to exempt whole industry sectors from the province’s air quality standards only when compliance with the air quality standards is truly unachievable.”

Ontario’s air pollution regulation sets strict limits on toxic emissions that cause health problems such as asthma, or environmental problems such as the contamination of the province’s lakes and soils. Facilities then have to either meet those limits or demonstrate that technological and/or economic barriers make it impossible. Where a facility demonstrates that it can’t meet the limits, the ministry may allow that facility to meet alternate requirements to control air emissions.

But the regulation was changed in December of 2009 to give industry a third option: sectors where at least two facilities can’t meet the air quality standards may be permitted by the Ministry of the Environment to meet less stringent regulatory requirements, such as installing new emission reduction equipment. And so far, two industries, forest products and foundries, have been given this “technical standard” exemption.

“While this new approach could achieve some emission reductions, the sector-based technical standards generally provide a reduced level of environmental protection compared to the air quality standards,” says Miller. “For example, the technical standards do not include concentration limits or expiry dates. And the removal of emission reporting requirements is particularly troubling, as the public won’t know what is actually being emitted and it eases pressure on the ministry to impose further emission reductions.”

Click here to read the chapter “Not Air Tight: Ontario Amendments to the Air Quality Regulation” on the website of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario..
Click here to download the full report in .pdf.

Click links below to access media releases on other topics mentioned in the Environmental Commissioner’s 2009/2010 Annual Report – Refining Conservation:

Environmental Commissioner Releases 2009/2010 Annual Report

Aging Landfills: Ontario’s Forgotten Polluters
Sewage Treatment – Not Good Enough
Wanted: One billion more trees for southern Ontario
Lack of Mining Oversight Jeopardizes the Far North
Government’s plan will not save caribou
Loophole big enough to truck 160,000 tonnes of sand through
More scrutiny needed for large natural gas plants
Province allows provincially significant wetlands to be drained

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The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is appointed by the Legislative Assembly to be the province's independent environmental watchdog, and report publicly on the government's environmental decision-making.  

Aussi disponible en français.

For more information, contact:  
Hayley Easto
Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
416-325-3371 / 416-819-1673

Click for high-resolution photo.