La loi et les désordres environne-
mentaux

Les lois sur la pollution au Nouveau-Brunswick sont souvent violées par des pollueurs industriels qui ne sont pas punis.  L'auteur Inka Milewski en donne deux exemples : le moulin Weyerhaeuser à Miramichi et la fonderie de plomb à Belledune.  Dans ces deux cas, aucun décret ministériel, avertissement ou amendes du gouvernement contre ces deux entreprises.

Il est largement admis par le public que les lois environnementales fédérales et provinciales ne sont pas respectées d'une manière adéquate et que les gouvernements sont indulgents envers les pollueurs.  Depuis des années la province a demandé au public de jouer le rôle de surveillance de l'environnement et d'aider à rapporter les problèmes environnementaux.  Et les citoyens remplissent ce rôle.  Milewski se demande : " N'est-il pas temps que la province fasse sa part? "

Law and Dis-Order

Inka Milewski
Science Advisor
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
March 2007

ocelyn White (not her real name) enjoys walking her dog along a neighbourhood brook.  One day she notices a bulldozer clearing land near the brook.  She finds out the developer who hired the contractor doesn't have a watercourse alteration permit from the New Brunswick Environment Department.  Jocelyn contacts the Department but nothing happens.  She calls the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Moncton and they come survey the brook for fish.  Eventually, the province gets involved and issues the developer the required permit.

Each year, New Brunswicks's six regional environment offices respond to thousands of environmental complaints reported by the public.1 (The department doesn't refer to them as complaints but rather as "occurrences" or "files".)  In 2003-04, the number of environmental issues handled by the Department jumped by 140% (Figure 1), reflecting a change in reporting.  The statistics now include problems identified during audits of industrial operations, annual air quality monitoring, and other routine investigations by departmental staff, as well as public complaints and emergencies.

The majority (65%) of environmental problems involve air and water quality issues and watercourse and wetland alterations (Figure 1).  Other types of problems include leaking oil tanks, unsightly premises, illegal garbage dumps, and e. coli in drinking water.

Who commits environmental crimes and is anyone punished?

In 2003-04, Weyerhaeuser, the operator of an oriented strand board mill in Miramichi, released over three times (or approximately 80 tonnes) more formaldehyde from the facility's stack than permitted under their Approval to Operate.2 Formaldehyde is a recognized carcinogen and is suspected of causing developmental, immunological, kidney, neurological, respiratory, and skin diseases.  The following year Weyerhaeuser again violated their permit to operate.  Formaldehyde releases were two-and-a-half times over the limit.  They exceeded the formaldehyde limit again in 2005-06.  No Ministerial Orders, warnings, or fines were levied against the company.


Weyerhauser plant.
(photo: National Pollutant Release Inventory)

Weyerhaeuser is not the only industrial polluter in the province to violated pollution laws.  The best- documented example is the lead smelter in Belledune.  Heavy metals discharged from the facility violated provincial and federal pollution laws for decades.3  The company was never charged or fined and not a single warning or Ministerial Order was issued.

Based on departmental statistics, almost all (98%) violations of industrial Approvals, air quality standards, and problems reported by the public go unpunished (Figure 1).  In any given year, less than 1% of the environmental complaints or violations result in charges being laid against a company or individual.  The department opts instead to negotiate and compromise with polluters.  The trend over the past 10 years, by both provincial and federal environment departments, is away from prosecutions and fines towards Ministerial Orders and warnings.

Environmental crimes are not victimless.

Public health and the environment suffer each time an individual or a company illegally releases pollutants into the soil, atmosphere, lakes, rivers, or ocean.  As Rachel Carson wisely pointed out in her landmark book, Silent Spring, the contamination of humans and the planet is not the result of a single event but innumerable small-scale events.  In 1962 she wrote, "[l]ike the constant dripping of water that in turn wears away the hardest stone…Each of these recurrent exposures, no matter how slight, contributes to the progressive buildup of chemicals in our bodies and so to cumulative poisoning".4

It is difficult to evaluate whether the policies of the Department of Environment result in a cleaner, healthier environment because the province does not produce an annual state of the environment report.  The Department of Health, on the other hand, publishes a report every five years that documents the health status of New Brunswickers.  Between 1993 and 1998, the number of deaths from cancer increased by 10.3% and the number of deaths due to endocrine-related diseases and immune disorder increased by 28.5%.5  Deaths due to diseases of the nervous, respiratory, digestive, and urinary/genital systems increased by 29.7%, 23%,52.6% and 26% respectively.  Meanwhile, the release of all classes of pollutants (greenhouse gases, carcinogens, endocrine disrupting, reproductive, and respiratory pollutants) in New Brunswick almost tripled between 1995 and 1998.6


Belledune smelter.
(photo: National Pollutant Release Inventory)

Some may argue that it's very difficult to demonstrate an absolute 'cause and effect' relationship between exposure to pollutants and increased disease rates.  However, scientific research examining these links is growing. It will be only a matter of time before the evidence linking diseases and cancers to specific pollutants will be overwhelming, just as the scientific evidence linking smoking to cancer and greenhouse gases to climate change is now overwhelming.

Enforcement statistics and examples like those found in this article fuel a widely-held public view that federal and provincial environmental laws are not adequately enforced and that governments are soft on polluters.  Almost daily reports of environmental and pollution-related health problems demonstrate that the public can't depend on governments to uphold environmental laws or to enact new laws to prevent further poisoning and destruction of the planet.  New Brunswickers (as well as all Canadians) need to take bold and creative actions if they are to succeed in pressuring governments to enforce environmental laws.

One option citizens have is to take matters in their own hands through private prosecutions.  Every Canadian citizen has the right to initiate legal action against an individual or company who is allegedly breaking federal or provincial environmental laws.  This type of legal action can be launched by an individual, or a group of individuals, and involves gathering evidence of a wrong-doing and laying charges against an alleged polluter.  The creation of new civil institutions like environmental bureaus of investigation and law clinics can help citizens with these types of prosecutions.7

For years, the province has been asking members of the public to become stewards of the environment and to help report environmental problems.  Citizens are doing their job.  Isn't it time the province did its part?

Notes:
1. Information and statistics were obtained from the Department of Environment Annual Reports. Annual Report from 2003- present can be found online on the Department's website under publications. Reports previous to 2003-2004 can be obtained from the Department of Environment library.
2. Information on Weyerhaeuser's compliance record can be found in the Department of Environment's 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2005-06 Annual Reports.
3. Milewski, I. 2006. Dying for Development: The legacy of lead in Belledune. Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Fredericton. 95 pp. The document can be downloaded in French or English for free from the Conservation Council's website: www.conservationcouncil.ca
4. Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Reprinted in 1987 by Houghton Mifflin Company Boston. p. 173.
5. New Brunswick Department of Health and Wellness. Health Status of New Brunswickers. Third Report 1989-1993, Table 8. Total Number of Deaths from Seventeen Major Disease Classifications, p. 36 and Fourth Report 1994-1998, Table 5. Total Number of Deaths from Seventeen Major Disease Classifications, p. 36.
6. According to data compiled by PollutionWatch (http://www.pollutionwatch.org/home.jsp)  which is based on data from Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) (http://www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/npri/npri_home_e.cfm), 2.25 million kilograms of pollutants were released to the atmosphere in New Brunswick. In 1998, 6.18 million kilograms were released. These figures are incomplete because not all industrial operators are required to report their releases to the NPRI.
7. For more information on private prosecutions and citizen-based environmental investigations visit the website of Ontario's Environmental Bureau of Investigation, a nonprofit division of Energy Probe Research Foundation (http://www.e-b-i.net/ebi/index.cfm), and read their citizen's guide (http://www.e-b-i.net/ebi/guide.html).