People contact Lake Ontario Waterkeeper nearly every day with questions about pollution in their communities. There's a plant next door that is sending soot into the air. There's a landfill down the street that is leaking into a nearby creek. There's a funny smell at the local beach and the water is often murky. We've written up a few basic steps that will help you take action when pollution affects your community. Whether you want government to act, need the help of an environmental group, or want to take the issue to the media, these steps will help to get you started. Whether your concern is air pollution or water pollution, your first steps as a citizen investigator are often the same.
Step 1: Visit the site
Visit the site that you are concerned about. Walk around the perimeter. How big is it? What kind of neighbours does it have? Is there water nearby? Are their stacks going up in the air? Are their pipes that lead to the water? Make sure you write down and photograph everything you see.
Step 2: Document everything
Often the most effective thing you can do is to start documenting what you see. Make a note every time the ash appears on your porch or you see the funny-coloured liquid leaking into the creek. Take a picture or make a video if you can. Even if this happens every day, you should make a separate note each time.
Step 3: Phone the government
Most pollution issues in Ontario are dealt with by the Ministry of the Environment. You can reach them at 1-866-MOE-TIPS. Write down the date that you call and the name of the person who speaks to you. Be clear about what you want them to do (for example: come out and investigate, phone the polluter, clean up a spill). Make a note of the government's response.
Step 4: Gather more facts
If you've already contacted the government or the polluter but the problem persists, you need to strengthen your case. If the pollution is happening without a licence, you can hold the polluter accountable or get the licencing process started to get the pollution under control. If there is a licence but your community is still affected, you can make the licence better to protect your family and neighbours.
No matter what your goal is, you'll need to be able to answer the following questions: - where is the pollution coming from? - who controls the source of the pollution? - is the pollution licenced? - what does the licence say? - is the pollution in compliance with the licence? - have their been any complaints or charges in the past?
Step 5: Build Your Community
Contact your neighbours. Share your thoughts and ideas and work together. Each individual can contribute in a different, yet equally important fashion. Support for and from others will help you continue the fight for clean air and water.
Step 6: Determine your action
Once you know who is polluting, when, where, how and whether or not it's legal, you have a range of options. We've described the federal tools in our Clean Water Primer #2. Depending on which province you live in, you also have a host of provincial tools to help you protect your community.
Need help? Call us with your concerns and let us know what Step you're stuck at. Waterkeeper's staff is more than happy to help!