The extent and nature of contaminated land in Canada
— the toxic legacy of our collective history of poor
environmental stewardship, including through weak environmental
regulation —continues to invade the headlines.
The City has claimed not to know about the existence of these
former dumping sites, though a document obtained by CBC/ Radio
Canada through an access-to-information request reveals that the
City had compiled a list of these sites as recently as in 1994.
Earlier this month, we blogged about a recent auditor general report
outlining the extent of contaminated land under Ontario's
ownership. That report suggested that Ontario owned 800
contaminated sites, of which 288 have recorded liabilities
totalling an estimated $1.792 billion. The province has acquired
these properties (generally formerly host to industrial or resource
extraction activities) in large part after they have been abandoned
and left in an unremediated state by former owners.
The situation is as grim at the federal level. A recent report issued by theOffice of the
Parliamentary Budget Officer indicated that the federal liability
for remediating contaminated sites is an estimated $4.9 billion. Of
this total, the "Big Five" sites (Faro mine, Colomac
mine, Giant mine, Cape Dyer-DEW line, Goose Bay Air Base) account
for $1.8 billion inestimated clean-up costs.
The low-level radiation sites around Port Hope, Ontario alone
will cost the federal government$1 billion to remediate. Radium and
uranium (some of which was reportedly shipped to the US for use in
the Manhattan Project) was mined in Port Hope for decades. The
toxic waste produced from this process was poorly managed and has
spread across the town mostlythrough the use of contaminated fill, which decades
ago was not known to pose any danger.
This legacy serves as a lingering reminder that when it comes to
the environment, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
— the sentiment embodied in the precautionary principle. It
is not always clearwhat long-term impacts will result from current
activities that impact the environment. And the costs — often
incurred by future generations — for irreverent,
irresponsible, or simply inadequate regulation are often dear
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