03/24/2019 09:33 EDT | Updated 03/25/2019 11:07 EDT

Ontario PCs Want To Stop Tracking Toxins. Experts Say It'll Cost Us Our Health.

The government plans to repeal the Toxics Reduction Act, which makes companies report on their use of toxic chemicals and pollutants.

Randy Risling/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Emissions are seen coming from an Ontario cement plant in this 2015 file photo. Experts say the provincial government's plan to repeal a toxic substance regulation with affect human health and the environment.

TORONTO — Environmentalists say Ontarians can expect more pollution if the Progressive Conservatives go through with their plan to repeal a toxic substances regulation.

"Exposure to toxic chemicals such as hormone disruptors and air pollutants adds billions of dollars in health care costs and significantly increases the burden of chronic diseases such as cancer and asthma," Tim Gray, the executive director of advocacy organization Environmental Defence said in a statement.

"The Ontario government is not only undermining its own commitment to tackle pollution ... it is also sending the wrong signal to industry and will encourage them to dump more toxics into our air, water and consumer goods."

Schedule 5 of the government's proposed Bill 66 repeals the Toxics Reduction Act (TRA). The 2009 act requires companies that use toxic substances, including those that can cause cancer, to create a plan to reduce that use. Whether or not they actually implement the plan, though, is voluntary. About 40 per cent of facilities have done so.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Economic Development Todd Smith make an announcement in February 2019. Smith introduced Bill 66 on Dec. 6, 2018.

Those facilities cut their use of toxic substances by seven per cent between 2015 and 2016. They also cut the amount of toxic substances contained in their products by nine per cent and released five per cent fewer toxic substances into the environment.

More than 425,000 tonnes of toxic substances were released into Ontario's water, land and air in 2016, the last year for which the government reported statistics. The province is one of the worst jurisdictions for toxic substance emissions in North America.

The government says the regulation is weak and overlaps with what the federal government is already doing.

"The Toxics Reduction Act was ineffective, and has not achieved meaningful reductions, and creates duplication for industry," a spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks told HuffPost Canada by email.

By repealing the TRA, Bill 66 will save companies time and money, Gary Wheeler said.

An association that represents Canada's chemistry industry said the TRA forced companies to report the same information twice —to both the provincial and federal governments.

It really isn't an effective policy.Don Fusco

In some cases, the act made companies create a plan to reduce the creation of toxic substances even if the substance itself was the company's final product, the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada's Don Fusco told HuffPost.

"It really isn't an effective policy."

But the federal regulation that the government referenced, the Chemicals Management Plan, doesn't actually do the same thing as the TRA, one environmental lawyer said.

The federal law is about monitoring and evaluating toxic substances while the provincial law actually encourages companies to limit their use of them, Canadian Environmental Law Association lawyer Joe Castrilli told HuffPost.

"You can't rely on what the feds are doing," Castrilli said.

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And it's unfair to say the TRA is ineffective because some parts of the law have actually never come into force, he added, including sections that allow for enforcement and penalties for non-compliance.

"That's a problem that the Ford government would have inherited. But repealing the statute isn't the solution to it, getting the remaining provisions to come into force is the solution."

In Massachusetts, where a similar law was fully enforced as soon as it passed, the creation of toxic substances was cut by 50 per cent after 10 years, Castrilli said.

"That's what's possible," he said.

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