A proposal to exempt some of Ontario's hazardous waste haulers from a provincial licensing scheme could lead to an increase in illegal dumping and accidental spills, environmental groups are warning.
Currently, businesses that want to begin hauling hazardous waste such as sewage, paint and propane must first apply to the Ministry of the Environment. Under the proposed change, those companies would be asked to register their activities in an online database run by the province – and would not require formal approval.
The ministry says the change would help streamline the approval process, adding that transporters would continue to be governed by the same regulations they are subject to now. And those who move radioactive, biomedical, pathological and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) waste would remain under the current licensing system.
But environmental groups worry that ending the formal application process for other hazardous wastes could weaken the province's ability to keep a close eye on the industry.
"There's a real concern that if there isn't regulatory oversight, that you may see increased illegal dumping and spills and accidents," said Ramani Nadarajah, a lawyer with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. "So the potential consequences in terms of Ontario's environment are, in my view, very substantial."
A 2007 report by Ontario's auditor general found "a significant level of repeat non-compliance" among hazardous waste handlers during a three-year period. "You will see that reduced even further [if]there is no government oversight over the activities," Ms. Nadarajah said.
Environmentalists say the ministry's proposal could also run counter to Canada's commitment to the Basel Convention, a multilateral agreement that regulates the cross-border transfer of hazardous waste. The Basel Action Network, a not-for-profit environmental group based in Seattle, sent a letter to Environment Minister Jim Bradley earlier this month asking his ministry not to follow through on its plan.
"We believe the ministry's proposal is illegal and inappropriate," the letter states. "[It]will further place Ontario, adjacent provinces and the United States environment and human health via cross border traffic at greater risk."
Kate Jordan, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said the province is aware of the federal government's participation in the Basel Convention and is "carefully reviewing feedback" on its proposal.