A fter a 16-hour debate and facing strong local opposition, the Durham Region Council voted 16 to 12 to recommend an energy plan to the provincial government on June 17, 2009. The plan requests $235 million to build an energy-from-waste incinerator in Clarington, Ontario. The toxic emissions from waste incinerators have been linked to asthma, cancer, congenital birth defects, and neurological impairments in children. The incinerator will be the first of its kind to be built in the greater Toronto area in 16 years.
The plan was opposed at the council meeting by over 80 citizen delegates who claimed that the environmental concerns are too grave, and that the proposal should be voted on by referendum this year. A citizen activist group called The Durham Environment Watch has been collecting signatures, and organizing events and demonstrations to protest the construction of the incinerator since 2005.
The Durham Environment Watch has gained the support of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Durham Region Labour Council, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Durham Regional Environmental Council, as well as Prevent Cancer Now, an organization whose goal is to do away with all preventable causes of cancer in Canada.
“Should we continue to buy local if the food that we grow and eat becomes contaminated with cancer-causing dioxins and other pollutants?” asks a flyer on the Durham Environment Watch’s web site. The site also includes links to over 300 letters to local newspapers regarding the construction of the incinerator. A group of 75 Durham doctors also petitioned unsuccessfully for the Durham Region Council to reject the incinerator.
CUPE-Ontario has publicly called out for district organizations to fight the toxic incinerator. CUPE- Ontario president Sid Ryan warned members of the dangers associated with constructing a power plant that emits noxious fumes within 10 kilometres of 20 schools. Ryan also warned that the corporation that will be appointed to build the power plant has a history of disrespecting regulations.
“Covanta, the American company that is the preferred vendor, has a record of safety and labour regulations violations in the U.S. that is a mile wide,” said Ryan.
In 1992, the NDP’s minister of environment, Ruth Grier, banned all construction of solid waste incinerators in Ontario due to environmental and health concerns. The incinerator ban was lifted on February 15, 1994, by Mike Harris’s Conservatives as part of the “Environmental Bill of Rights Act” which was intended to permit municipalities to open their decision-making processes to freely select any energy policy.