OFM - Waste Handling 7
9.3 Ministry of Environment and Energy
Several regulations administered by the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MOEE) are designed to protect the public and environment from pollution. Where a person wishes to discharge a contaminant to the environment, application must be made to the Approvals Branch, under the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Environmental Protection Act. Emissions from new or modified waste, water and sewage facilities, or facilities which may emit a contaminant to the air are reviewed, and if approved, issued with a Certificate of Approval. Regulations specific to certain industries (e.g. steel, pulp and paper) provide additional environmental controls.
The Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MOEE) also has the mandate of encouraging recycling operations in order to reduce wastes that end up in landfills. Regulation 347/94, "General - Waste Management" exempts certain recycling operations from the requirement to obtain a Certificate of Approval. The number of these recycling operations in Ontario is not certain, because there is no notification requirement under this regulation.
Environmental Protection Act
Under this Act, a provincial officer has considerable authority to take action after a contaminant has been discharged. His or her ability to take action to prevent the discharge of a contaminant may not be as well defined.
Under this Act, "adverse effect" includes (but is not limited to):
a. impairment of the quality of the natural environment for any use that can be made of it,
b. injury or damage to property or to plant or animal life,
c. harm or material discomfort to any person,
d. an adverse effect on the health of any person,
e. impairment of the safety of any person,
f. loss of enjoyment of normal use of property, and
g. interference with the normal conduct of business.
Upon application from the owner, a Director has the authority to control, through certificates of approval, any plant, structure, equipment, apparatus, mechanism or thing that may discharge, or from which may be discharged, a contaminant into any part of the natural environment. Where it is necessary for the protection of the natural environment, the prevention or control of immediate danger to human life, the health of any persons, or where the owner has not applied for a Certificate of Approval, the Director may issue a stop order or a control order.
If an order is stayed because of an appeal, the Minister may still cause the work required by the order to be done. If the order has not been stayed, the Director may cause the work to be done if the person required by the order to do the work has refused to comply, is unlikely to comply, or requests the assistance of the Director.
Where operations are not required to obtain a Certificate of Approval, Standardized Approval Regulations may be used to set out minimum requirements to protect the environment.
The provincial officers have considerable rights of search and seizure, even without warrants, where they have reasonable grounds to believe there has been a contravention of the Act.
The Ministry of Labour is responsible for administering the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Regulations for Industrial Establishments made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These regulations are designed to primarily protect workers from injury or death. These are not designed to provide protection for the environment in the event of a fire. However, some provisions contained in these regulations are designed to control process hazards such as fires, explosions, electricity, ignition sources and material handling. By their nature, these requirements have a positive effect on controlling risks to the environment and public.
The Ministry of Health administers the Health Protection and Promotion Act. The key to the application of this Act to recycling plants is whether improperly protected plastics, flammable liquids, hazardous waste or other hazardous materials could be considered a "health hazard" under this Act. One of the meanings of "health hazard" under this Act is "...a solid, liquid, gas or combination of any of them, that has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the health of any person.".
After an emergency has occurred, a medical officer of health may issue an order where they believe that a health hazard exists to the community and that the requirements specified in the order are necessary to decrease the effect or to eliminate the health hazard. An order may include, but is not limited to, vacating the premises, requiring the doing of work specified in the order or requiring the removal of anything that the order states is a health hazard to the community.
The Building Code Act establishes the right of the Chief Building Official of each municipality to enforce the Building Code. The Building Code contains requirements for the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing buildings. Because the primary purpose of the Building Code is to regulate the construction and occupancy of the building, protection for the contents is provided by referencing the Ontario Fire Code or other appropriate codes or standards.
The Chief Building Official may issue stop work orders or orders to remedy unsafe conditions in buildings. Building Code officials have rights of entry similar to those provided under other provincial legislation.
At the moment, many Ontario municipalities do not have adequate financial resources to take effective proactive measures that would minimize the environmental, health and safety impact of fires.
All monies collected for Ontario Fire Code prosecutions by municipalities are kept by the Province. Expenses for prosecution under the Ontario Fire Code are borne by the municipality. Due to the current funding arrangements, smaller municipalities having to rely on volunteer fire departments may experience difficulty in fully enforcing the Fire Marshals Act and the Ontario Fire Code.
Although there is a procedure for a municipality to recover its costs, there is a distinct possibility that it will not be able to recover all of them, where the owner is not willing to comply or does not have sufficient funds.
Improving the Fire Code
The Ontario Fire Code can be updated and strengthened to deal more effectively with preventing fires which could have an environmental impact.
One of the challenges facing local fire services is the difficulty of knowing the location in their community of start-up businesses in waste handling and recycling, as there are limited requirements for notification.
Estimating the fire's impact
Another component of this problem's scope is the tremendous difficulty fire fighting officials have in estimating what the impact of a fire will be, in any given example, before or after the flames have begun. Each case is profoundly unique with its own circumstances and potential outcomes, therefore, there is a need to conduct research. Funding has not been provided to permit this activity.
Existing Ontario Fire Code
Although Parts 3 and 5 of the Ontario Fire Code contain fire protection requirements for storage and processing of hazardous materials, they are in need of updating.
The Ontario Fire Code currently has no requirements relating to the storage of flammable and combustible liquids. However, Part 4, which is in the final stages of development, will deal with hazards associated with flammable and combustible liquids.
It is evident there is a potential for other fires, similar to the Plastimet fire, to occur in Ontario. Strong positive action by the Government can significantly reduce the possibility of fires, that have the potential to seriously endanger the health or safety of any person or the quality of the natural environment, from occurring in recycling and other facilities.
Experience in Ontario and elsewhere has demonstrated that, fires in the type of facilities examined in this report can be extremely costly. For example, the Hagersville fire is estimated to have cost Ontario $12,200,000. Preventive measures can be introduced and implemented at a fraction of the cost of coping with major fires and their aftermath.
The recommendations contained in this report, if followed, will significantly reduce the possibility of fire occurrences in occupancies such as the Plastimet facility. Further, if fires do occur in facilities of this nature, their impact will be significantly reduced and be manageable by emergency response personnel.
Investing in preventive measures has proven to yield dividends that far exceed the potential cost impacts of fires. Therefore, resource commitments to enhance prevention measures is an investment in Ontario's future.
It is our collective responsibility to provide the most fire safe environment for the people of Ontario. Therefore, I urge the Government to move quickly to implement the recommendations contained in the report. In doing so, the health and safety of our residents and emergency responders, and the quality of our natural environment will receive the protection they all deserve.