The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   S I G H T I N G S

Canada Cries Foul Over Water Pollution

"My officials are exploring the possibility of suing U.S. polluters in American courts," Canada's , Environment Minister John Roberts announced in early December. There is little else to do "short of sending the Mounties to raid Washington," he quipped to the Toronto Globe and Mail.

A study by Canada's environment agency. published in late November, seems to have raised Roberts' ire. The report revealed detectable levels of TCDD (2, 3, 7, 8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-Dioxin) throughout Lake Ontario.

TCDD, a by-product in the manufacturing of certain chemical goods, appears to be highly toxic. It is "strongly mutagenic, strongly terotogenic (causing abnormal development of the foetus), and possibly carcinogenic," according to Dr. Joel Fisher, senior environmental adviser for the U.S. section of the permanent U.S.Canada International Joint Commission. "The current thinking is that any detectable trace of TCDD is bad news and should be eliminated," he says.

The Canadian government has pointed a finger at Dow Chemical, alleging in an official letter to the U.S. State Department that Dow's Midland Michigan facility is "the only known major source of entry of TCDD into the environment." Hooker Chemical also receives mention for producing TCDD as an impurity "between 1929 and 1974."

"The allegations are absurd," says Dow's vice president for environmental affairs, Etcyl Blair. Denying any knowledge of a possible law suit, Blair says: "We've received absolutely no communications from the Canadian government and absolutely no communications from the U.S. government."

Official U.S. reaction to the Canadian complaint was more conciliatory, and seems to have smoothed some ruffled feathers in Canada. Less than two weeks after the Canadian grievance letter was sent to the U.S., the State Department held a joint U.S.-Canada meeting to discuss and compare scientific data on TCDD pollution.

Even though the meeting was not policy-oriented-the joint statement agreed upon at the end of the meeting specified only that both governments would continue "exchanging information and cooperating" for further study of the problem-Canada views it as a "positive step," according to Sheila Tooze, environment officer at Canada's U.S. embassy. Tooze adds that, to her knowledge, Canada's Environment Minister Roberts no longer intends to pursue legal channels to resolve the issue, at least for the time being.

If Roberts were to try to bring a U.S. company to court, he might encounter some difficulty. U.S. regulations on TCDD are still being drafted. "As of now, there is no permit requirement. In the interim, TCDD discharge would be legal," says Kent Ballantine of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Bureau of Water Quality Standards.

Table of Contents