July 10. 2017
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Parry Sound District, Bracebridge Field office
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
1350 High Falls Road,
Bracebridge, ON, P1L 1W9
Attention: Jeff Schosser, Aggregates Inspector/Specialist
Frank and Elizabeth Lippa
c/o Skelton Brumwell & Associates Inc.
93 Bell Farm Road, Suite 107
Attention: Caitlin Port, RPP
Letter of Objection Regarding: Proposed Quarry
1089 Butler Mill Road, Rosseau, ON
North Half of Lot 4 and Part of Lots 4 and 3, Concession 4, Geographic Township of Cardwell,
Township of Muskoka Lakes, District of Municipality of Muskoka
I have several concerns regarding the proposed quarry, but here I will focus primarily on releases to air and to water.
The limits that the province will apply to releases from the quarry are not known to us at this time, but are to be established after the current application has been approved by MNRF. Limits for releases to water will be part of the Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) for industrial sewage works, and the Permit to Take Water (PTTW), both issued by MOECC. Air emissions may be controlled under Ontario Regulation 319/05, implemented by MOECC, and procedures, but not limits, for control of dust emissions are stipulated in the Aggregate Resources Act.
It is my belief, in fact my knowledge, that these limits to releases will fail to protect the local environment and the health of those living there. How can I say this when I have not yet seen these limits ?
I say this because I spent much of my career, spanning more that 30 years, as a professional engineer with Environment Canada, developing standards for releases to air and water from a range of industrial activities. Over that time it became increasingly clear that the way these release standards, best practices etc. were developed precluded them being adequately protective of the environment and health. Let me be clear, it is not just some particular type or group of release standards that is flawed, it is the way they are developed, and in fact their very nature that is flawed. And this applies not just to release standards in Ontario, or Canada, but also in the U.S. and generally in the western world.
A summary discussion of how and why release standards are flawed is presented in the addendum to this note.
The “bottom line” on release standards is that we should not fall into the trap of believing that because any particular enterprise will meet “all the appropriate environmental standards”, it will necessarily be safe for the environment and for health. This problem with release standards is not meant as a criticism of my former colleagues at the MOECC, MNRF, Environment Canada or any other regulatory organization. The problem is the way western society as a whole deals with protection of the environment and health.
Should it seem that I wish to stop all industrial development in order to protect environment and health, I can assure you that the truth is vastly different. My opinion is that much of the industrial development of the past could have gone ahead without major problems to the environment, health or the economy if we had “gotten it right” on controlling releases. And much of the development foreseen for the future could go ahead if we get it right starting now. We need to do this to protect our future and that of our children and grandchildren.
And “getting it right” is not a matter of dream or fantasy. Many of the aspects of “getting it right” have been thoroughly researched, debated and largely agreed upon for many years by scientists, engineers, economists and legal experts. Some of these aspects include the precautionary principle, cumulative effects assessment and full life-cycle cost accountability. What is lacking is primarily the political will to put these into effect at the senior political and ultimately global level.
So what to do about the proposed Lippa Quarry ?
I expect that others have addressed or will address the potential, not quantified as yet, but likely present to some degree, for releases of suspended particulate matter, heavy metals, phosphorus and perhaps other contaminants in the mine dewatering releases, and the releases of very fine respirable particulates including PM 10 and PM2.5, in the fugitive dust emissions from the quarry. PM 10 and PM2.5 are known carcinogens that have well-documented health impacts, no safe exposure levels, and can be transported long distances in the atmosphere. Where there is potential for such harmful releases and there are sensitive environments such as Skeleton Lake and human populations nearby, there are only two reasonable options:
1. At the very least, make approval contingent upon the implementation of exemplary controls on releases. These controls should go far beyond achievement of current release standards and be accompanied by rigorous monitoring to ensure that releases are in fact being kept to “at background” levels in all conditions, including off-standard or unexpected circumstances. Failure to achieve such control on releases should be grounds for withdrawal of permission to operate. If it is not possible to ensure such control, then approval should be denied.
2. Deny the application outright, based on its proximity to sensitive environments and populations.
I submit to you that option 2. is the more appropriate option for MNRF.
Why are release standards not adequately protective of the environment and health ??
1. Release standards are most often based on the premise that the concentration or quantity of releases can be reduced to levels at which there is no clear evidence of damage to the environment or health. This premise is flawed in at least two important ways:
a) The rigour of scientific methods is such that it usually takes a very long time to develop conclusive evidence that some level of releases will in fact cause damage. Strong (but not conclusive) evidence of damage may exist, but this is rarely enough to result in limits to releases. The stringency of any release limits to be implemented will, at best, be subject to the scientific certainty supporting them. This usually develops in stages, supporting more stringent release limits as the science becomes more conclusive over time. Our society has been reluctant to embrace the precautionary principle, which would support more stringent release limits where it is likely, but not conclusively proven, that damage will occur. So release limits based on rigorous science are associated with serious time delays in responding to problems.
The following are just some of the more prominent of the many examples of where this approach has allowed problems to become serious before greater control of releases is required.
Atmospheric deposition of acidic pollutants, commonly known as acid rain, has caused countless billions of dollars worth of impacts on health and the environment, and has resulted in industry and society as a whole spending many billions to try to correct the problem. Much of this could have been avoided had we gotten releases of acid gases effectively under control in the early days. We could have, but we didn’t. And though we now have release standards that have reduced the severity of the problem, we haven’t solved it. The release standards approach is not good enough. New manifestations of the acid rain problem, such as calcium depletion in soils and lakes, are becoming apparent and will likely continue to impose severe costs on society.
Ozone and fine particulates in the air we breathe, commonly known as “smog” continue to cost billions of dollars per year in health damage alone in Ontario. The pollutants that cause smog, their sources and ways to control them, have been known for a very long time. Standards to control these emissions have been a more recent development, and emissions from some sources have declined by as much as 99%, but the problem is still far from solved. The health damage continues. The standards approach is not good enough.
Mercury releases from chlor-alkali plants associated with pulp and paper led to such severe problems with mercury in fish, and the consequent health impacts on those eating fish, that the plants were ultimately shut down. This is one example of where it was actually recognized that release standards were not going to suffice; shut-down was the only answer. The river systems are still seriously damaged. But mercury in fish is currently a problem in waters not touched by chlor-alkali plants. The mercury is in large part coming from power plants and smelters throughout North America and in fact the world. Emission standards for such plants have not, at least until very recently, even addressed mercury.
b) Some substances have no threshold for impacts on the environment or health. That is to say, there is no level at which the substance has no impact. Silica dust, in the form of respirable particulate matter such as is released from quarrying operations, is one of these substances. Releases of silica dust are commonly referred to as “fugitive emissions”, meaning that they have escaped whatever control measures are in place, often because they come from a number of dispersed and difficult to control points. Very small particles can be transported substantial distances . Thus, control measures, such as water sprays, or point of impingement standards at the quarry boundary, do not ensure safety for the environment or health in areas adjacent to points of release. The only thing that can reasonably be done is to ensure that points of release of such substances are separated by substantial distances from sensitive environments and human populations.
2. Where release standards have been developed they have rarely been developed based on environmental or health impacts. Generally they have been based on applying a degree of control that has been demonstrated to be technically and economically feasible. In other words, “we know how to do it and it won’t cost too much”. Thus, the release standards are not necessarily related in any way to impacts on environment or health. Without solid data on the environmental or health costs of releases, the release standards and the technology necessary to achieve them can be seriously compromised by arguments that they are too expensive. And so, if they exist at all, the release standards are likely to represent what is felt to be a “reasonable” level of effort to control releases. Our experience has been that in nearly all cases this level of effort has over time been found to be not enough. Note that this trend is unidirectional, i.e. it is always found that we need to further reduce our releases; I know of no examples of the reverse for major environmental issues.
3. Where release standards have been developed for a substance they are nearly always applied to one source at a time and fail to address the cumulative environmental and health impacts of releases of the same substance from other sources. A number of sources, each of which may be controlled to the point where their impacts are too small to measure, may in total be causing serious problems.
4. The release standards in nearly all cases fail to deal with the fact that the costs of controlling releases are not the same for all sources. As a result some individual sources will face much higher control costs than others. These will generally become the reference point for not requiring further control in order to avoid “excessive” costs. But overall costs could be reduced and greater control of releases achieved more efficiently by going beyond release standards. The closest Ontario has come to this has been in the “Countdown Acid Rain” program, where emission caps were placed on smelters and power plants, leaving Ontario Hydro (at that time) to determine where (at which plants) releases could be reduced to meet the overall cap at least cost. But even this program failed to provide any monetary incentive to reduce beyond the level of the Ontario Hydro cap. The U.S. went a step further with their system of SO2 emission caps for power plants, but even it failed to provide incentives for reductions below the overall cap. Ultimately, Ontario phased-out coal-fired power generation in recognition of the environmental costs of its acid gas, smog precursor, mercury and CO2 emissions. But this came after spending $billions on the release standards approach.
5. Release standards are never developed for all sources of a substance, but usually only for the major and most “visible” sources and those most amenable to source control. The fact that there are no release limits for a source does not indicate that it poses no threat to the environment and health.