Groups petition Auditor General to demand sewage treatment upgrades in Canada’s coastal cities

Media Release

For Immediate Release April 28, 2004

VANCOUVER, BCSierra Legal Defence Fund submitted a formal petition to the federal Auditor General today alleging that the Government of Canada is failing to adequately regulate the release of toxic substances such as PCBs from sewage systems in many of Canada’s coastal municipalities. Filed on behalf of the Georgia Strait Alliance and United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union -CAW, the submission highlights numerous promises by the federal government to deal with these issues in the past few years and requests that Auditor General investigate the glaring gap between the government’s commitment and action.

“Despite repeated promises of action from the Government of Canada, sewage treatment systems in cities such as Victoria, Vancouver, St. John’s and Halifax are still inadequate and continue to release massive amounts of toxic substances into the marine environment each and every day,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Margot Venton. “ Canada has passed domestic laws, signed international conventions, and adopted national standards and strategies which all purport to prohibit this kind of pollution. Our request is merely that the government enforce its existing laws and live up to its international commitments.”

The submission, filed under the Auditor General Act, highlights the federal government’s ongoing failure to effectively control the discharge of sewage contaminated with persistent organic pollutants, and in particular PCBs, into the marine environment. Evidence accompanying the submission suggests that this type of pollution is contributing to contamination of the marine environment and marine life, including species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act such as BC’s Southern Resident Killer Whales and the imperilled Beluga Whale population from the St. Lawrence River.

“The Minister of Environment is allowing municipalities to illegally discharge contaminated sewage. In addition, he promised to bring in regulations to limit PCB contamination of our oceans more than two years ago and has failed to do so,” said Georgia Strait Alliance Clean Air and Water Program Coordinator Christianne Wilhelmson. “ The result is that animals like the Southern Resident Killer Whales, which are already endangered, are being put even further at risk.”

Technology to control and virtually eliminate persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs from sewage systems is widely used throughout Canada and the submission documents how, by simply upgrading to secondary sewage treatment, up to 99% of all PCBs could be removed.

“To ensure a safe and clean marine environment the federal government must force our coastal communities to upgrade their sewage treatment systems,” said United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union-CAW Environment Director David Lane. “It has the power to ensure that PCBs aren’t dumped into the marine food chain. We are simply demanding that the federal government exercise that power.”