Keep Track of Pollutants in Your Neighborhood

CECIn 2011, I had stumbled upon the Commission for Environmental Cooperation(CEC), a group run mostly by a council of environmental authorities (cabinet level or equivalent) from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. They created a great web site which allows informed citizens to keep track of pollutants.  The CEC’s mandate is to compile and disseminate data of toxins from the continent’s industrial activity as a pressure tactic towards reducing emissions.

Unfortunately, at the time the latest available data was five years old. Now in 2014,  it’s been updated to include 2011 data. Let’s see what has changed.
I had looked up 2006 chloroform emissions data from the province of Quebec and had compared them to those from California. Chloroform, CHCl3, is a cancer-suspect agent and has been banned from all American consumer products since 1976. Yet in 2006, Quebec released 41 284 kg of chloroform into the air, with one company alone(Smurfit Stone) releasing 37 421 kg. In contrast, the entire state of California had only released 5078 kg of the same compound.chloroform

Things got worse in 2011 when 91 257 kg of chloroform were released in Quebec. The main culprit was Fortress Paper in Thurso, which is upstream from Montreal, and which released almost 78 000 kg. In California, things remained better with only 4,846.63 kg released mostly by Dow Chemical in the town of Pittsburg, California.

In  2006 , the city of Quebec incinerator added 414.3 kg of mercury to the atmosphere, a drop in the bucket compared to an excess of 20 000 kg contributed by a single company, Stablex from Blainville, Quebec. Five years later the Quebec City incinerator lowered its emissions by almost 90%, whereas Stablex’s emissions of the toxic metal rose to 27 669.00 kg. Mercury messes up the quaternary structure of nervous system proteins and interferes with sulfur and selenium bonds. There are likely other mechanisms by which mercury does damage, leading to impairments of the visual cortex and cerebellum. The maximum concentration of mercury allowed in drinking water  is, as a result, quite small: 2 parts per billion, or 2 µg/L.
According to their web site, Stablex treats and stabilizes inorganic waste and contaminated soils, and releases a “benign product”. Without their operations, things would be worse, but the question is why aren’t they up to par with California? The entire state emitted only 18 886 kg in 2011, less than what Stablex discharged in Blainville. Is the state exporting their mercury while we import it from elsewhere? Stablex and Blainville were in the news in the late 1980s when it became known that most of the waste being dumped there was actually from the United States.  In 1991, a Blainville citizens group, ARBRE, filed a suit against the Quebec Environment Ministry for not disclosing results of soil analyses.
On a positive note, benzene emissions have decreased in Quebec. Danger-BenzeneBenzene is a known carcinogen (in  a higher risk-class than chloroform), and from 2006 to 2011, emissions have decreased from over 90 000 kg to 25 000 kg, respectively. The main culprits are Boralex, and the Montreal East’s polymer-maker Para-chem and  oil refinery Suncor. California has not met the same fate. Emissions of benzene have increased from 59,710 kg to over 134 000 kg. They have now surpassed us in benzene emissions per capita: 3.5 grams versus 3.1.

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