Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on January 23, 2015 (updated: March 29, 2017)

Toxic dirt threatens Ontario rural communities and the environment

Ecojustice lawyer Laura BowmanLaura BowmanLawyer
©TFoxFoto via Shutterstock

Imagine waking up one morning to find out that truckloads of toxic dirt are making their way to your neighbour’s back yard. Soon, the pile of dirt grows, the truck noise gets louder and the dust becomes unbearable. You start to wonder what exactly is being placed on your neighbour’s property and if it is safe? You worry about your private well and whether the drinking water it provides you and your family will be contaminated.

The Conservation Authority and your municipal government say it is not their responsibility, so you contact the Provincial Ministry of the Environment, but no action is taken.

That is what many Ontarians are dealing with on a daily basis. Soils, refuse and other materials from urban construction projects are excavated from cities around Ontario and disposed of on rural properties. Some of this material comes from contaminated sites and contains toxic or hazardous waste.

During the last decade, the Ontario government has failed to regulate truckloads of fill and waste that they required to be excavated as part of brownfields cleanup programs in urban Ontario. Ontario’s brownfields laws provide cleanup criteria so strict that many sites must be completely excavated to be developed. The Ontario government wants soil to be reused but does not want to flex regulatory muscle to make sure that soil is not contaminated before that happens.

Soil that doesn’t meet brownfields standards is required by law to be placed in a licenced landfill or remediation site. But the standards requiring the lawful creation of waste sites and landfill sites for this purpose are not being enforced by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

Instead of taking action to ensure toxic dirt is disposed of safely, the ministry has created a “best management practices” document that suggests that soil handlers can create waste sites without proper permits if they get an engineering consultant to sign off on the soil handling.

This best management practices document fails to create a public, transparent accountable regulatory system for contaminated soil and ensure that the Ministry takes action if the soil is not safe or could harm the environment.

That is why Ecojustice is working with Earthroots Coalition asking the ministry to do better in its ongoing review of soil regulation under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.  In late December 2014, Ecojustice lawyers submitted comments on behalf of Earthroots telling the ministry that it needed a plan, and that it had to do more than simply provide guidelines.

We are currently awaiting a response. We’ll keep you posted on what happens next.

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