Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

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Toronto's community right to know about environmental toxics moves forward, with help from RNAO and partners

RNAO and Partners Keep Toronto’s Community Right to Know on Track.

For years, Toronto Public Health (TPH) has worked hard to develop a program in community right to know about environmental toxics. As TPH showed, only about four percent of Toronto facilities that use or release chemicals into the environment are actually required to report those releases under existing legislation, because only very large emitters are required to report. Perhaps only 20% of toxics released are reported publicly, meaning that people have very little idea of their actual exposures. The Toronto proposal would require reporting by all users and emitters of 25 priority substances, and this would dramatically improve the level of public knowledge of emissions.

Sadly, a flawed piece of legislation, Bill 64 on pesticides, threatens to derail municipal environment legislation such as Toronto’s community right to know. That is because, unless amended, Bill 64 will make all municipal pesticide legislation inoperative. This is a very regressive step, as it demobilizes grassroots action, which is more effective at the municipal level than it is at the provincial level. Municipalities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Markham have been vocal in their opposition to that provision, which is having repercussion effects far beyond the realm of pesticides. Municipal politicians are concerned that any environmental legislation they pass could be invalidated by Ontario’s coming toxics legislation. Indeed, that is precisely what happened with Toronto’s community right to know: TPH was hesitating to move forward, lest politicians would vote the program down, due to a fear that scarce City tax dollars could be wasted on a program that the Province later ruled inoperative.

This would have stalled momentum for community right to know in Toronto and across the province. Furthermore, Toronto’s initiative would help to set the bar for Ontario’s promised toxics legislation, so its importance cannot be underestimated. A coalition of environment and health groups hastened to support the Toronto initiative. Those groups included RNAO, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition. On July 3, 2008, the Toronto Board of Health considered submissions by these groups and voted unanimously to take all necessary steps to enable Toronto City Council to consider the program proposal by October 2008. This was an important victory. RNAO will continue to support this and other right-to-know initiatives across Ontario, and will work for the strongest possible right-to-know component of Ontario’s toxic legislation, which is currently being drafted.

Related Links
RNAO Submission to the Toronto Board of Health on Environmental Reporting
Toronto Board of Health July 3 Decision: Read Progress Report on a City of Toronto Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Program
TPH documents on environmental reporting and disclosure

 

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