by Sharon Oosthoek

A City of Toronto bylaw requiring that small and medium-sized businesses report the use and release of certain toxic chemicals would, if it passes, be precedent setting. Federal regulations demanding accountability for the use and release of chemicals exist but pertain only to large companies. This means that less than 3 percent of Toronto businesses are required to report on their use of chemicals, says Katrina Miller, campaigns director for the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA).

Toronto’s proposed bylaw, which would cover 25 toxic chemicals, including benzene, trichloroethylene and lead, went before the board of health last July. With the recent introduction of a similarly-focused provincial initiative, the board recommended that “the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) learn more about the province’s emerging toxics use strategy so as to ensure that the proposed Toronto program does not conflict with or duplicate the provincial program.” The MOH is expected to report back in October. If all goes well, council could consider the law as early as this winter, says Monica Campbell, manager of Toronto Public Health’s environmental protection office.

“One of the reasons this is so important in Toronto is that there are lots of commercial and smaller establishments and we all live very close to point sources [of pollution],” says Campbell.

TEA, which has teamed up with labour and health groups over the last four years to urge the city to implement such a bylaw, expects it will make a big difference. While the bylaw does not include targets for reducing toxic chemicals, the fact that the information will be made public is likely to have a powerful impact.

“We’ve found mandatory disclosure breeds significant voluntary reductions,” says Miller. “There are two reasons – the desire to do good when the spotlight is turned on [a company], and when companies spend time and energy to track the toxins, they find ways to be more efficient.”

She says U.S. cities, such as New York and Eugene, Oregon, have found emission reductions of at least 50 percent after implementing toxic chemical reporting laws.

Alan Jordan, general manager of printing house C.J. Graphics, is pleased to see the city considering the bylaw and hopes it will pass. He has a recycling station outside his building that collects and reuses old cleaning solvents, reducing the amount of toxic chemicals he uses from 170 litres a week to the same quantity every three months. “This arrangement is good for business,” says Jordan. “It makes good economic sense.”