Ontario not keeping close enough watch on hazardous waste: auditor

A "significant" amount of toxic and radioactive waste is likely being dumped illegally in Ontario, the province's auditor general said Wednesday.

A "significant" amount of toxic and radioactive waste is likely being dumped illegally in Ontario because the province isn't keeping a close enough watch on generators of hazardous waste, Ontario's auditor general said Wednesday.

Jim McCarter told the Canadian Press that 900 hazardous waste generators haven't officially reported any dumping in three years, but ministry inspectors haven't followed up to see where this toxic waste has gone.

"Hazardous waste is basically being dumped some place where it shouldn't be dumped and it's not being treated," McCarter said a day after his annual report was released. "That certainly is a risk to the environment."

The Environment Ministry has rules governing the disposal of hazardous waste, but McCarter said those rules don't seem to be enforced.

Although McCarter said his 2002 audit pointed out problems with monitoring and inspecting hazardous waste disposal, he said there hasn't been "substantive improvement" since then.

It appears uncertified carriers are likely transporting waste because the province isn't keeping a close enough eye on them, he said. In some cases, there is a discrepancy between the amount of hazardous waste being shipped and the amount actually received, McCarter said.

"The ministry inspector should go out there and find out what's happening," he said. "The obvious question is, 'Where did it go?' It didn't vanish into thin air. There could be valid reasons, but we're saying the data in the computer poses a lot of these questions, and they should be following up on some of this."

Despite the difficulty in enforcing Ontario's environmental laws, McCarter said taxpayers are on the hook for the hazardous waste program. Although fees from hazardous waste generators were intended to pay for the program, McCarter said the province is spending $30 million but has received only $12 million in return.

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said McCarter's conclusions are "shocking" and should spur the Liberals into action.

"This is an urgent situation," he said. "There is literally tons of toxic goop not accounted for here, and people not being inspected or monitored. You have to ask yourself, how many tons of toxic goop have to go missing and end up heaven knows where before the Liberals will take some responsibility?"

Some people applying for provincial certification have been waiting for years, Tory said, and clearing that backlog should be a priority.

New Democrat Peter Tabuns said the Liberals have been told for years that their Environment Ministry doesn't have enough money to enforce the law.

"This is a government that seems to be very fond of passing new laws that everybody knows won't get enforced," he said.