With the Kyoto deadline looming, public awareness about air pollution is at an all-time high. Front page articles, editorials, and broadcast news stories flood the national media - yet across Ontario, few people know that the Minister of Environment is about to make a critical decision that could dramatically increase the amount of pollution in Ontario's air.
The proposal is harmless enough in name, the "Scrap Tire Diversion Program Plan" and the tagline on the Plan's front cover has a nice ring to it - "Recycling Tires to Benefit Ontario." In its original conception, the Plan was supposed to outline a waste division plan for used tires in Ontario, to help keep them out of landfills and local creeks, for example.
In its finished form, the Plan is less about benefiting Ontario landfills and creeks than about subsidizing air pollution. The key to recycling tires in Ontario and eliminating old stockpiles is allowing the use of "Tire Derived Fuel" - tire burning - in cement factories across Ontario. Or, so says the Plan.
If the Plan is approved, the cement industry will receive its benefits at enormous expense to our communities. Burning tires release some of the worst air pollutants known to humans ? pollutants like dioxins and furans, which cause cancer, and fine particulates, which cause respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. The Plan's own data shows that tire-burning will release more heavy metals and dramatically more particulates into the surrounding community than even coal.
It is not just local air quality that will suffer. The dioxins, heavy metals, and PAHs that are released by burning tires fall onto communities hundreds of kilometers away. Emissions from cement plants in Michigan were tracked all the way to Colorado and from Texas to Oklahoma. When the pollutants fall, they are unknowingly inhaled by humans or ingested by fish and wildlife. Once in the food chain, the pollutants begin to concentrate, affecting animal and plant species. These concentrated contaminants are often consumed later by human beings.
When the Minister of Environment decides whether or not to approve the "Scrap Tire Diversion Program Plan," she will be making a momentous decision. If she says, "Yes," Ontario's commitment to clean air becomes mere lip service. If the Minister says, "No," we will all breathe a little easier.