the dream of keeping junk out of our H2O is inching closer to reality with the phase-in of the city's new sewer-use bylaw -- but eco types warn that the measure may come to nothing if the shrinking municipal budget doesn't leave enough cash for its enforcement.It's not exactly reassuring that the works department may not be getting the six new bylaw officers it says it will need to monitor discharges.
Skeptics point out that there are 5,000 new businesses to be covered by the bylaw, which will be fully phased in by June. Many of these, they say, are hostile to the new controls and eager to continue slipping their deadly chemicals into our waterways.
Works committee chair Betty Disero is trying a positive spin, arguing that the bylaw's $20,000 fines for polluters will keep companies on the straight and narrow even if the city can only conduct "random inspections."
She admits, however, that the plan isn't foolproof. "We can't check all of them all the time," Disero says.
That worries works committee vice-chair Jane Pitfield. She's afraid the city will be forced to focus on only those companies that are the subject of complaints from the public.
Pitfield's also aware of some companies' lobbying efforts at City Hall and is concerned that the city will begin cutting slack for companies that don't comply.
"If it becomes a well-known fact within the industries that we're understaffed, they'll assume there'll be no consequences," Pitfield says.
"What we need is a new kind of compliance reporting that shows we're out there broadly keeping an eye on all industry." Unfortunately, that regimen seems unlikely to be put in place.
Jack Layton says council is opening itself up to "Walkerton-like scenarios" if it decides not to hire the inspectors. And he's prepared to ask the companies themselves to pick up the costs of hiring inspectors.
"We wouldn't need them if it weren't for the fact that companies have been discharging," Layton says. "We all have to assume the consequences of that irresponsibility."
But will companies actually comply? Besides setting tougher new limits, the bylaw requires companies to develop pollution prevention plans, update them every five years and submit annual performance reports to the city. Where similar bylaws have been passed in the U.S., companies that were forced to develop more eco-friendly ways of doing business have actually been able to reduce waste disposal costs.
Here, industry has been decidedly reluctant to embrace the bylaw. At one point, some threatened to take the city to court. Other companies have been begging off, saying they need more time. There have been closed-door meetings with key members of the works committee.
There are other signs of resistance. Dentists were supposed to begin complying with the bylaw by January 1, but many have yet to purchase the equipment to catch the mercury they're no longer allowed to dump in the sewer system.
The Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, a group representing some of the city's biggest polluters, is still objecting to the stricter discharge limits set by the bylaw.
Until recently, the group was trying to convince the city to drop one of the bylaw's key provisions requiring all companies to submit pollution prevention plans -- just another indication, critics say, that the industry is not serious about reducing pollution.
CPPI spokesperson Barbara Bolubash says the petroleum industry is serious about reducing harmful chemical waste but can't do much more than it's doing now. "Basically, there's not much more we can upgrade." Bolubash says the bylaw creates too much paperwork, just one more cost for companies doing business.
But it's the stringent limits on chemical discharge that has the petroleum industry really bothered. Bolubash says the limits being proposed are not "science-based."
"We're basically being asked to make sure that the water that runs off our sites is cleaner than drinking water standards in many cases."
Pitfield counters that "industries trying to protect their bottom line are missing an opportunity to be leaders and win recognition for trying to make Toronto healthy."