Canadian Greens want US - style toxic waste fund
OTTAWA - A coalition of Canadian environmental groups on Friday urged the government to set up a special C$2 billion fund ($1.3 billion) to start clearing up around 10,000 toxic waste sites scattered across the country.
The 28 groups - headed by the Sierra Club of Canada - said Ottawa should create a "Clean Canada Fund" on the lines of he U.S. Superfund program, which has spent $14 billion (USD) and almost two decades tackling 1,200 badly polluted sites.
Canada has no national program to deal with contaminated sites and no one in the office of Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale was immediately available for comment. Sierra Club officials said federal and provincial governments had not even compiled an inventory of places to be dealt with.
"Until there is until a national clean-up fund for these sites they will continue to pollute the environment, harm Canadians and - probably the most disgusting aspect of this - to pass on this responsibility to the next generation of Canadians," said the Sierra Clubs Daniel Green.
The environmental groups say Ottawa is responsible for around 5,000 of the sites, mainly abandoned forestry, military and mining sites. All contain various kinds of toxic waste.
Sierra Club deputy director Angela Rickman said the main priority should be given to sites in or close to towns.
"The initial fund that were looking at would be C$2 billion which we hope would be replenished by securing deposits from industries which are likely to create pollution," she told a news conference.
"There would obviously have to be replenishment every year and that wouldnt necessarily take care of all the sites."
One of the most notorious waste sites is the Sydney Tar Ponds in Nova Scotia - pools containing 700,000 tonnes of toxic chemical sludge generated in a century of steelmaking.
Residents in the nearby town of Sydney say the toxins are damaging their health and demand to be moved. Cancer rates are soaring and there are many cases of heart disease and asthma. The government says it has already spent C$135 million to try to clean the tar ponds up.
Another potential time bomb is 240,000 tons of arsenic trioxide stored in abandoned gold mine shafts underneath the town of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
"Its not just an academic exercise to want to see toxic waste sites cleaned up," said Sierra Club executive director Elizabeth May, who mounted a 17-day hunger strike last month to focus government attention on the Sydney Tar Ponds.
"If the arsenic that is currently pooled under Yellowknife went into the drinking water the extent of the catastrophe would be so striking that the public and other levels of government are not about to say We can understand the money wasnt there to deal with this problem," she said.
The environmentalists said that, despite extensive lobbying in Ottawa they had had little success in persuading the Canadian natural resources ministry and other federal departments to pay attention to the problem.
"The public support is there and we just need to continue to build the support within government. This is something we realistically believe can be done. Canada is simply behind the pack," said May.
Story by David Ljunggren
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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