The number of facilities reporting the use, creation or release of toxic substances under the Ontario Toxics Reduction Act, 2009 (TRA) increased from 841 in 2010 to 1040 in 2015. The number of facilities reporting the use, creation or release of known carcinogens also increased, up from 464 in 2010 to 674 in 2015. Since reporting under the TRA is still in its infancy, it is important to note that the increased number of facilities that are reporting should be perceived as positive. The TRA is a voluntary program, and the increasing number of reporting facilities over the years shows that manufacturing and mining facilities are considering ways or taking action to ensure toxics use reduction and pollution prevention.
While industrial emissions remain a source of air pollution in Ontario, emission amounts have decreased substantially over the past decade. For example, 2,148 facilities in 2006 reported approximately 860,094 tonnes of total releases in air to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). In 2016, that amount had decreased to 1,667 companies reporting approximately 511,123 tonnes.
Environment and health in Ontario
There is increasing evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer and other health outcomes [1–3]. A recent global health assessment estimates that approximately 7% to 19% of cancers are currently attributable to toxic environmental and work-related exposures [2, 4]. Due to the difficulty of directly assessing environmental exposures, we use indirect data on factors influencing "potential" exposure . In this report, those data are derived from the following.
- Use, creation and release of hazardous substances. The TRA collects information on the use, creation and release of hazardous substances. The TRA and Ontario Regulation 455/09 were implemented as a toxic use reduction strategy, with the goal of providing Ontarians better disclosure about the use, creation and release of toxic substances in their communities . The TRA was modeled after the successful Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act, which became law in 1989 and was amended in 2006 . It requires select manufacturing and mining facilities in Ontario that already federally report their industrial releases to (a) track, account for and report on their use, creation and release of select toxic substances on an annual basis; (b) plan for the reduction of each toxic substance (implementation of these reduction plans is voluntary); (c) report and submit summary plans and annual reports on progress; and (d) update plans at least every 5 years.1
- Hazardous substances released into the environment. A publicly accessible national database that annually tracks the toxic chemicals “released and/or transferred into the environment (land, air and water)" from industrial facilities in Canada is available from the NPRI. This is a mandatory pollutant release reporting program that was established in 1993 under the federal Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) [8, 9]. The NPRI was developed under the guidance of a multistakeholder committee and is modelled after the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory . It requires all Canadian industrial facilities that employ 10 or more people to report on 346 select toxic substances that are deemed to pose a threat to human life or the environment if the facilities use more than 10,000 kg of any of the listed substances annually
- Under the North American Industrial Classification System, selected facilities are those identified by a code that begins with the digits “31, ” “32” or “33” (indicating manufacturing), or with “212” (indicating mineral processing). Mineral processing at the facility should involve the use of chemicals to separate, concentrate, smelt or refine metallic or non-metallic minerals from an ore.
I associate cancer prevention with education. It means continuing to educate the public about the benefits and ease of screening, and scientifically proven cancer causing activities (e.g. smoking) and agents (e.g. asbestos). These messages need to be sensitive and reach a broad audience, including those who may be uncomfortable (or unaware) of screening procedures, or who may not speak/read English.
– Jane L., Patient/Family Advisor
What do the results show?
Toxics Reduction Act, 2009
- In the initial TRA reports to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change in 2010, 841 facilities reported the use, creation or release of 155 toxic compounds. This included known human carcinogens (IARC Group 1) (N = 15) and suspected human carcinogens (IARC Group 2A or 2B) (N = 28).
- There were changes in TRA reporting after 2010, when the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change changed from a 47 substance priority list (Table A in O. Reg 455/09) to the NPRI toxic substance list. That increased the number of toxic substances reported to 346. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change currently lists 346 substances under its prescribed substances list.
- In 2015 (Table 1), 1040 facilities reported the use, creation or release of 233 toxic compounds. Of the total substances reported in 2015, nearly 25% were known or suspected human carcinogens (N = 58).
- The number of facilities that reported the use, creation or release of known or suspected human carcinogens increased from 464 in 2010 to 674 in 2015 (Table 1).
- Known or suspected human carcinogens are still being used, created or released in Ontario.
- Future indicators will track the change in the amount of toxic substances reported under TRA 2009, as well as the proportion of companies implementing plans to reduce the use, creation and release of toxic substances in Ontario.
Hazardous substances released into the environment
- The NPRI reports indicate that air emissions have decreased over the last decade. In 2006 there were 2,148 facilities reporting approximately 860,000 tonnes of pollutants in the air. By 2016, that had decreased to 1,667 facilities releasing approximately 511,123 tonnes (Table 2).
- Potential toxicity of the emissions depends on factors like the properties of the compound being released and the medium into which it is released. Weighting factors like benzene-equivalence can be used to take into account differences in toxicity and exposure potential, allowing comparisons of releases on a common scale.
Why is this important to Ontarians?
- Outdoor air pollution represents a major public health concern because everyone is exposed to outdoor air pollutants, albeit to different degrees [11–13]. Examples of populations that are more susceptible to air pollutants are children and the elderly.
- A wide range of toxic chemicals are released from industrial facilities into the air and water, or they are transferred off-site for disposal. Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and prolonged exposure to these releases may increase cancer risk [2, 13].
- By undertaking the reporting processes required in the TRA, manufacturing and mining facilities may have opportunities to reduce toxics through actions such as substituting safer alternatives for toxic substances, increasing process efficiencies (e.g., using less of the substance or reducing waste generation) and reformulating products so less of the substance is needed.
How does Ontario compare with other jurisdictions?
- Ontario ranked third highest in environmental carcinogen air release in Canada in 2015 (after Alberta and Quebec). Several programs and initiatives have been established to reduce the potential health risks associated with chemicals.
- The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has proposed daily and annual standards for carcinogenic environmental contaminants based on toxicology, especially for hexavalent chromium and volatile organic compounds (like benzene and 1,3-butadiene).
- Ontario has taken a leading role in implementing the TRA as a program that emphasizes industry changes that reduce or eliminate toxic chemical use, hazardous waste generation, emissions (to air or land), and by-products per unit of product manufactured.