By Krystyn Tully
On February 14, 2005, the public comment period for a potentially poisonous new Ontario program came quietly to a close.There was no fanfare, no front-page newspaper articles or radio announcements. Across the province, few knew that the Minister of Environment was about to be confronted by one of her toughest challenges yet: protecting the Great Lakes in the face of corporate Canada’s devious greenwashing efforts.
The proposal is harmless enough in name – the “Scrap Tire Diversion Program Plan” and the tagline on the Plan’s front cover has a nice ring to it – “Recycling Tires to Benefit Ontario.” In its original conception, the Plan was supposed to outline a waste division plan for used tires in Ontario, to help keep them out of landfills and local creeks, for example. In its finished form, the Plan is less about benefiting Ontario than it is about subsidizing pollution. The key to recycling tires in Ontario and eliminating old stockpiles is allowing the use of “Tire Derived Fuel” – tire burning – in cement factories across Ontario. Or, so says the Plan. There are two major flaws with the Plan: it contravenes Ontario law and it threatens the health of our Great Lakes communities.
The cement industry is behind the push for tire burning: the Plan clearly states that the industry does not want government to develop markets for rubberized asphalt (made from recycled tires) because it is direct competition for the existing concrete road base market. Cement plants want permits to burn tires because it will help to reduce their fuel costs and because they will receive, according to the Plan, a $1-million guaranteed payout.
If the Plan is approved, the cement industry will receive its benefits at enormous expense to our communities. Burning tires release some of the worst air pollutants known to humans – pollutants like dioxins and furans, which cause cancer, and fine particulates, which cause respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. The Plan’s own data shows that tire-burning will release more heavy metals and dramatically more particulates into the surrounding community than even coal.
It is not just local air quality that will suffer. The dioxins, heavy metals, and PAHs that are released by burning tires fall onto communities hundreds of kilometers away. Emissions from cement plants in Michigan were tracked all the way to Colorado and from Texas to Oklahoma. When the pollutants fall, they are unknowingly inhaled by humans or ingested by fish and wildlife. Once in the food chain, the pollutants begin to concentrate, affecting animal and plant species. These concentrated contaminants are often consumed later by human beings.
Much of the pressure to burn tires in Ontario results from fears that the American market for used tires is drying up. Programs such as New York’s Waste Tire Management and Recycling program and Michigan’s Scrap Tire program mean that Ontarians may no longer be able to send 50% of our scrap tires south of the border. The Plan explicitly states that the New York and Michigan markets could disappear and promotes the creation of new uses in Ontario – such as fuel for cement plants – to replace them.
And here the Plan’s biggest flaw is revealed: It is not at all clear that this 200-page document offers an innovative answer to Ontario’s used tire surplus. Rather, it appears to be a desperate attempt to compensate for improved environmental protection in the United States.
The solution proposed by the cement industry – burn tires in Ontario – is the worst possible response to increasing regulation in the United States. As the U.S. strengthens its environmental protections, Ontario should do the same.
When the Minister of Environment decides whether or not to approve the “Scrap Tire Diversion Program Plan,” she will be making a momentous decision. If she says, “Yes,” Ontario becomes a haven for polluters fleeing U.S. regulation. If she says, “No,” the Great Lakes region takes another step towards the best bi-national environmental protection in the world.