Canada has an impressive record when it comes to cutting water pollution but its efforts on air are a little cloudy, according to data published Tuesday by the Commission for Environmental Co-operation.
Canadian industrial facilities cut surface water discharges by almost two-thirds from 1995 to 1997, according to the tri-national agency set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Facilities in the United States cut water discharges by only 13.7 percent during the same time period, according to the annual Taking Stock report, the most comprehensive database available on North American pollution.
Mark Winfield, researcher for the Canadian Institute on Environmental Law and Policy, attributed Canada''s better showing to federal regulations on pulp and paper production, introduced in the early 1990s.
"That was the last industrial pollution control initiative that the federal government undertook -- nearly a decade ago," said Winfield. "This, of course, has been spectacularly successful. What I take from it is that regulation works."
Richard Descarries of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association said the improvement is due to a combination of new regulations, environmental pressure and a drive for economic efficiency.
Overall, however, pollution trends documented in the report are not so positive.
Despite massive efforts to control industrial pollution through new technology, voluntary campaigns and tighter laws, total releases from industrial sites rose 1.2 percent over the 1995 to 1997 period.
Approximately 128 million kilograms of substances known or suspected of causing cancer were released in 1997 alone, according to the commission''s report.
Ontario dropped to third from second place in the ranking of worst polluters, after Texas and Pennsylvania, mainly due to increased releases in Pennsylvania, rather than improvement in the province.
Direct releases of pollution to air, land and water declined, but that was more than offset by a sharp rise -- 31 percent for Canada -- in pollutants taken away for disposal.
An off-site transfer could result in pollution being dumped into a landfill or sewage system, burnt in an incinerator, treated to remove its toxic elements or recycled.
There is no way of knowing from current data what proportion of the waste met which fate.
Janine Ferrett, executive director of the Commission for Environmental Co-operation, said the increase in total pollution is disturbing but more time is needed to tell whether it is a trend.
The report does not cover pollution from Mexico, which does not yet have adequate monitoring systems to provide reliable data. Nor does the report cover pollution from vehicles and other small sources.
by Virginia Sutcliffe