Federal pollution data would give valuable additional information to the program created to protect sources of Ontarians’ drinking water, says a new report from the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and Environmental Defence.

The report tracks and maps pollution from facilities reporting to the federal government’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) in Ontario source protection areas and regions. These facilities release chemicals to the air and water and the report recommends that these sources of pollution be included in assessing drinking water threats. While water releases may have been considered in most of the source protection regions, air releases have likely not been considered to date.

“This data from the NPRI is a reliable and valuable information source as to potentially significant sources of pollution to our drinking water in Ontario and should be taken into account as part of the source protection plans currently under development in Ontario,” said Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of CELA.

Using data submitted to the NPRI in 2007 (the most recent validated data available), the report found that facilities in 18 source protection areas and regions released more than 32 million kilograms of toxic chemicals and 722 million kilograms of criteria air contaminants (pollutants that cause smog and acid rain) to the air. The report was prepared as part of the PollutionWatch project, and is the first to map pollution levels for source protection areas and regions in the Great Lakes Basin.

About 1.5 million kilograms (over six per cent) of the chemicals released to the air in source protection areas and regions are known or suspected of causing cancer, while almost 3 million kilograms (nine per cent) of all air releases are known or suspected reproductive and developmental toxins. Examples of chemicals released include benzene and arsenic, both known or suspected carcinogens.

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Facilities reporting to the NPRI in source protection areas and regions also reported 54 million kilograms of releases of chemicals to water. Examples of chemicals reported include ammonia, nitrate ion, phosphorus, chlorine, lead and cadmium. About 30 per cent of the chemicals released to water are listed as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Among other recommendations, CELA and Environmental Defence are calling on the Ontario government to  incorporate air pollution into the province’s drinking water source protection program.

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