Mills pollute while federal government snoozes
October 17, 2008
On the anniversary of one of Canada’s worst chlorine spills at a pulp and paper mill, a new report finds that the federal government continues to neglect their responsibility to enact and enforce pollution prevention laws.
The 1994 spill of chlorine dioxide at the Powell River mill in British Columbia was the worst chlorine accident in BC history. Tragedy was averted only because the gas blew out to sea, where the Coast Guard warned boats to stay 1.6 kilometers offshore for two days. In the 14 years following the spill, poor regulatory enforcement makes a repeat of this event a real possibility.
“For decades the federal government has failed to adequately protect human health and the environment from the toxic legacy of pulp mills,” said Anna Tilman, author of the report. “It is time that the Canadian government takes the dangers posed by pulp and paper mills seriously.”
Entitled Pulp and Paper Pollution: The Toxic Legacy of Federal Neglect, the report details failure in government oversight of the pulp and paper industry. These include barriers to information access on emissions, inadequate regulations and enforcement, and ineffective toxic substance management programs.
“The data is alarming in its demonstration of pulp mill contribution to the toxic load in communities,” said Delores Broten of Reach for Unbleached, the report’s sponsor. “It is unacceptable that our federal government is ignoring its responsibilities to regulate industry and provide information to the public concerned about their exposure to toxic chemicals.”
The report compiles all obtainable data on the toxic emissions of Canadian pulp and paper mills, while highlighting the significant gaps in information. It highlights numerous serious problems with federal and provincial regulatory systems including: inconsistent implementation; gaps in regulations; lack of consideration for Best Available Technology; and inconsistencies in mill reporting.
The communities around pulp and paper mills are the hardest hit. As mills close across the country, the toxic legacy of these sites is being left to the public to deal with.
“In addition to the tragic loss of jobs in these communities, the same citizens are saddled with the menace of toxic sites,” said John Jackson, Director of Clean Production and Toxics at Great Lakes United. “It’s bad enough when the largest employer in a town suddenly closes shop, but the willful blindness of these multinational corporations who leave behind a toxic legacy haunts communities who have to live with the pollution.”
Pulp and Paper Pollution: The Toxic Legacy of Federal Neglect stresses the need to develop strong enforceable regulations, institute credible and verifiable monitoring, and deal with the legacy of contaminated sites.
Pulp and Paper Pollution: The Toxic Legacy of Federal Neglect (1.5 MB) provides a set of clear recommendations for Canada to work towards credible and verifiable data, fulfilling its obligation to protect environmental and public well-being, and to meeting its domestic and international obligations.
Download the background Excel spreadsheets for the Toxic Story
Read about the historic Powell River chlorine dioxide accident here
Also newly available for download
Final Report - Health Risk Assessment of Airborne Dioxin and Furan Emissions at the Elk Falls Pulp Mill (1994)
(PDF, 45 MB, requires Acrobat 6) Readers should be aware that in 2005 Health Canada lowered the "Tolerable Daily Intake" of dioxin by three quarters.
US National Academies New Study Confirms Dioxin is Toxic
After 15 Year Delay, 5th Study Finds Chemical Causes Cancer, Developmental Problems & Birth Defects
Press Release Tuesday, July 11, 2006
( Campbell River, BC) - The National Academies (NA) released a controversial report today in the United States confirming what numerous scientific panels have concluded over the past 15 years - dioxin is a potent cancer-causing chemical even at very small levels. Dioxin can cause developmental and immune effects at levels close to those currently found in the American and Canadian population.
“This just goes to confirm what has been scientific consensus for decades now, despite the denials of chlorine-based industries that have been effectively stalling the release of the EPA’s controversial dioxin reassessment for 15 years,” said Delores Broten, Senior Policy Advisor for Reach for Unbleached, BC’s pulp watchdog organization. “Not only is the pulp and paper industry heavily reliant on the chlorine industry for the production of bleached paper, but the use of salty hog fuel on the west coast dramatically increases the emissions of dioxins into the environment. ”
“Dioxins emissions are one of the key concerns for coastal pulp mills,” concurred Rob Wiltzen of the Crofton Airshed Citizens Group. “It’s well established that coastal pulp mills are a special concern for dioxins emissions while the regulation and testing regime is completely inadequate to ensure environmental and public health.”
Pulp mills are obligated to test for dioxin emissions once per year, soon to devolve to once every two years while studies show that dioxin emissions are highly variable. Salty Hog fuel is the bark and wood waste from coastal logging operations that transport and store logs in salt water. The salt is absorbed into the wood waste that is then burned as fuel in the pulp mills, producing emissions of dioxins and furans among other by-products in the combustion process.
"Although the NA review has confirmed that dioxin is a carcinogen, the EPA Dioxin Reassessment concluded this several years ago and recent studies have added additional weight to this conclusion," stated Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health. "Furthermore, there does not appear to be safe 'threshold' for dioxin's carcinogenic effects. Dioxin also causes many other health problems even at low levels, such as developmental problems in children, immunologic problems in children and adults, reproductive problems in adults, and diabetes."
Every North American eats dioxin when they consume fatty foods, and nearly every citizen has measurable levels of this chemical in their body. Dioxin contamination is particularly high in areas with dioxin sources like incinerators, smelters, pulp and paper mills, chemical factories or other industries that use chlorine.
"The first health assessment of dioxin was in 1985," said Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ). Gibbs's struggle to clean up dioxin in her Niagara Falls NY community at Love Canal has been credited with launching the grassroots environmental health movement. Enough is enough—let's get on with establishing health protective regulations around dioxin discharges and clean ups," said Gibbs.
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