Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green

In honour of Earth Day - or Earth Week as we're calling it - a committee I'm on in my company is posting an earth-related article every day on an internal blog. Today, we had a great post from an employee and passionate environmentalist about Community Right to Know legislation. I wanted to link to her post but unfortunatley, it's internal-only so I stole the content and have posted it here for your reading pleasure. She tells a real personal and moving story about how toxins have affected her life..... definitely worth reading. So in honour of Earth Day, I bring you... someone elses' writing.


Last year I turned forty-eight. That birthday is more significant than forty was, or fifty will be. Why? My Mom died of cancer at forty-eight years of age. Four years later, my Dad died of cancer. Two years later the dog died of cancer. I said to the vet, “I didn’t know dogs could get cancer.” He replied – “We’re seeing more and more of it.”

Eight years later I found out that the industrial land behind my home was being cleaned because it was contaminated. There is a chain link fence separating my backyard from the industrial property. We always had a small vegetable garden. I stopped eating the vegetables and I never planted another one.

My grandparents on both sides of the family lived to their 80’s and 90’s. My Dad’s siblings lived into their 80’s, my Mom’s are in their 70’s and going strong. Both sets of grandparents smoked, as did my aunts and uncles. The most obvious difference – my parents lived in the Town of New Toronto. It is in South Etobicoke, a neighbourhood located along the shores of Lake Ontario between Kipling Avenue and Royal York Road.

In New Toronto, our near neighbours were CIL, Gilbey’s Gin, Goodyear, Continental Can, Anaconda Steel, Dominion Colour, Pittsburgh Paints, National Silicates, Cognis/Henkel, CN Rail and Campbell Soup. We lived three doors down from the rail line and just south of the Gardiner highway. To this day, I have no idea what they emit. Community Right to Know legislation would change that.

I once said to my Dad, “You’re a smart man – why did you start smoking?” He said, “It was a healthful pursuit, the pass time of gentlemen. The Duke of Windsor smoked, so did Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. We didn’t know any better.”

Now we know better, and we have the right to know. We have the right to know what is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, bathe and play in, and in the soil we grow our food in, build our homes on and use for recreation. We have the right to know when we are exposed to toxic substances that harm our health.

Currently, that right is not protected by industry or government in our cities, provincially or federally. Toronto Public Health is considering a Community Right to Know Bylaw, also called the Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Program. http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/enviro_info.htm

Toronto Public Health has identified twenty-five toxic chemicals that are released into Toronto’s air at levels that are a risk to health. http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/enviro_info_1.htm

Nine high-risk carcinogens (cancer –causing substances) are in our air at unhealthy levels. Annually, approximately 7,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals are released into Toronto’s air land and water.

Under current legislation less than 3% of companies are required report the substances they emit to the National Pollution Registry, information the public has access to. http://www.secrecyistoxic.ca/adPDF/Accessing%20Pollution%20Release%20Reports.pdf

There are approximately 11,000 businesses in the City of Toronto that release toxins. Across Ontario and Canada polluters are not required to tell their neighbours who live and work beside them what harmful substances they are exposing them to. Over 80% of emissions into Toronto’s air are not reported to the National Pollution Registry.

A Community Right to Know bylaw would ensure public access to environmental information that is user-friendly, relevant, reliable and available in layman’s terms. The public would be able to access and understand information on the use, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous substances, quantities being released into the environment (air, water and soil), and the potential adverse effects of each substance on health and the environment.

You may ask yourself, “ How will it help my family and me if the City of Toronto passes a Community Right to Know bylaw, when I don’t live in Toronto?” Good question. Remember a little program that started in Etobicoke in 1977 called “Reduced Impaired Driving in Etobicoke”? Today it’s called R.I.D.E. – Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere, and it operates province-wide, all year long. Eugene, Oregon and New York City, Massachusetts and New Jersey have Community Right to Know legislation in place, and that started with one community.

In May 2006 the provincial Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibited smoking in enclosed workplaces and public places to protect workers and the public from the “pollution” of second-hand smoke. The laws for companies who pollute the air we breathe, water we drink and the soil we live on do not ensure we know about emissions like lead, mercury and formaldehyde. Why aren’t industries that emit harmful toxins, which pollute our environment, held to the same standards and laws that a neighbour, friend or family member lighting a cigarette is governed by?

Industries are concerned Community Right to Know legislation is an attack on them. That is not true. They are worried it will cost them money and profit. If your workers and consumers are getting sick – that will not increase your profits. Industries that are leaving North America, are not leaving because of the threat of a Community Right to Know bylaw. Everyone understands we need industry – we all need and want jobs.

No one wants to shut industry down or force them to move. My Dad worked at Goodyear, they put food on our table for forty-two years, and I try to buy Goodyear products whenever I can.

Did working at Goodyear contribute to my Dad’s cancer and death? I’ll never know. Government, industry and the public have adversarial relationships. We need to change the way we interact. The Community Right to Know bylaw is the future. A future where government, industry and communities partner and work together to make changes for the better of everyone.

It won’t be easy but it is necessary. The future needs to begin now. Please support Toronto Public Health’s Community Right to Know – it is a small step to make the world a healthier place for all of us. If you want to take action by reducing toxins and chemicals in your home, find guides to safe alternatives or learn how to support Community Right to Know. Check out this link: http://www.secrecyistoxic.ca/right_to_know.php


April said...

Oooh, that's a really good article. It's scary to know how many toxins and chemicals are floating around.

M said...

I know... it freaks me out. It's also really sad to think her parent's may have died so early as a result of toxins in the ground. I guess she'll never know but I'd always think that was a contributing cause.