Monday, January 27, 2014


A local CPAC member e-mailed me this on-line report written by "Jon Devine, Senior attorney, Washington, D.C." . It is titled "What the West Virginia Chemical Spill Teaches Us About Clean water". First off the chemical involved is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) and not only have I never seen it before but I'm quite confident that it is a chemical that neither our Ontario Ministry of the Environment, nor our Region of Waterloo have ever tested for in groundwater, surface water or especially in drinking wells.

This report has four major recommendations all of which reflect current glaring weaknesses in our legislative protections. When I say "our" I mean all of North America. These weaknesses are not so much unintentional as they are the result of lobbying by chemical industries and their right wing political friends. The Republicans are particularily focused on south of the border but their Conservative counterparts here in Canada are of a similar mindset.

1) "Protect All of Our Waterways" The U.S. Clean Water Act apparently doesn't currently protect all surface water bodies that may eventually lead to water bodies supplying drinking water. Here in Ontario we give token protection only to rivers and streams running into the Grand River which supplys numerous downstream communities with drinking water. Our federal government have been missing in action here in Elmira in regards to the Canagagigue Creek and ongoing discharges into it. This also applies to chemical discharges into the Grand in both Kitchener and Cambridge, Ontario.

2) "Develop Spill Prevention Requirements for Chemicals Comparable to those for Oil" Oil proucts have numerous regulations regarding spill prevention and control whereas chemical facilities not so much. This I believe may actually be better handled here in Ontario. Things like secondary containment have been the standard for some time although enforcememt of tank farm maintenance is clearly lacking when one looks at groundwater contamination beneath and downgradient of chemical tank farms in Elmira, Ontario.

3) "Make Facilities with a Likely Release Accountable" There is a loophole whereby companies who do not have a regular discharge of hopefully treated wastewater are not required to have permits. A expanded permitting review is necessary for these facilities which only occasionally discharge or which are subject to discharge only during a spill incident. This report states that the current political climate in the Republican-led House of Representatives makes this expansion of regulations difficult or unlikely.

4) "Provide Adequate Resources to Inspect Facilities and Prosecute Lawbreakers" The company responsible for the chemical release in West Virginia are known as "Freedom Industries". They were apparently rarely visited by environmental officials. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection does not have a respected record of enforcement. Also the EPA due to budget constraints are looking at so-called "Next Generation Compliance strategies". This sounds suspiciously like Ontario's voluntary compliance system although the EPA call it more partnership with industry. "Rather than retreat on enforcement, Congress should fund, and EPA should invest in, enforcement approaches that have proven to curb pollution.".

The bottom line the world over is that even with enhanced environmental legislation, sympathetic "fellow travellors" can avoid enforcement through budget underfunding, intentional loopholes and political stickhandling even when polluters are caught redhanded. Constant vigilance by citizens of our political and environmental authorities is very difficult to achieve and they know it and continue to abuse it.

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