Unless Waterkeeper's bid for an extension is successful, Friday marks the end of the public comment period on Lafarge Canada's application for approval to import and burn tires, bones, plastic and other potentially harmful waste in a cement kiln near Kingston, Ontario.
Earlier this month, Lafarge applied to the Ministry of Environment for two permits - one to incinerate scrap tires, non recyclable plastics, animal bone meal, materials and byproducts with "biomass characteristics", pelletized municipal waste, and the second to create a waste disposal facility onsite to handle the material. Waterkeeper's submission will be filed later this week under the Environmental Bill of Rights - it details our serious concerns with the proposal.
First and foremost, the Lafarge proposal has potentially grave consequences for the environment and human health of eastern Lake Ontario. Waterkeeper's first objection to tire burning came last March, in response to Ontario's proposal to recycle tires by burning them at cement kilns. Virtually every study conducted in North America and the United Kingdom shows that burning tires releases more dioxins and PAHs into the air than coal. Dioxins are widely regarded as the most carcinogenic substances known to science, while PAHs are also known to cause cancer. These toxins are accompanied by increased emissions of heavy metals, which pose a threat to aquatic wildlife. All of these emissions eventually fall into Lake Ontario the surrounding community, building up in the ecosystem, and threatening the health of any person who consumes fish or game. This is a big concern for eastern Lake Ontario, home to our last commercial fishery.
The scrap tire recycling plan was withdrawn, and now Lafarge is proposing even more a private initiative that would see other plastics and organic materials burned along with tires. This new proposal is so broad and so vague that it is impossible to state with any accuracy that Lafarge's proposal is safe, and that environmental damage can be prevented. The company is asking for permission to import waste from a huge territory: Ontario, Quebec, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. While Ontario municipalities struggle to reduce domestic waste, this is actually a proposal to start importing waste from other jurisdictions.
While the stated purpose of the project is to reduce the use of coal, terms like "energy recovery" and "alternative fuels" are really just greenwashing terms for "garbage incineration." Lafarge has always been clear that the biggest benefit of burning waste is savings. Garbage is cheaper than coal. Any municipal waste incinerator in Ontario would have to go through an environmental assessment process to make sure it is safe and the community is protected. Because this is a private company that manufactures cement, residents have not yet been granted the same level of protection under the law.
In the past, the Government of Ontario has consistently introduced and supported policies and legislation designed to clean up our air. Just one week ago, Minister Broten took our American neighbours to task for allowing coal plants to pollute Canadian communities. The government must now choose between limited efforts to limit coal plant emissions and a more progressive (and ultimately more effective) battle against harmful air pollution from every source in every region of this province.
The lobbyists and spin-doctors are out in full force on this issue: a "win, win, win" they like to call energy recovery. As recently as February 13, 2006, Lafarge registered a lobbyist to influence Cabinet's decisions regarding air emissions and alternative fuel sources.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper believes the stakes are too high for decisions like this to be made behind closed doors. The company is not just asking for a permit to burn waste at its cement kiln. The company is asking the residents of eastern Lake Ontario to ante up their rights to clean water, clean air, a safe food supply, and a healthy environment so it can save money on its fuel bill. By not subjecting the proposal to an environmental assessment or allowing the public enough time to review the supporting documents, Lafarge's broad proposal and fancy rhetoric go unchallenged.
Waterkeeper's concerns focus on affects on Lake Ontario and aquatic life (air pollution is a major influence on water quality). The project raises other concerns as well - public health, property values, waste management policy, and international trade among others. None of these concerns is allayed by Lafarge's permit applications. If you would like more information about the project or would like to express your opinion, please see the permit applications on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry: air application - waste site application.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has filed a request with to extend the deadline through April 3, 2006. If the Ministry of Environment rejects this bid for more time, the deadline for public comment is this Friday, March 3, 2006.