Why Would She Allow Repeated Failures to Meet Federal Government Minimum Human Health Protection Guidelines?
Where was the Minister Responsible for Drinking Water Quality in Ontario?
July 27, 2017. This is the fifth in a series of Blogs by Rod McLeod, retired lawyer, former Ontario Deputy Minister, Environment (with the Liberals) and earlier, Public Safety (with the Conservatives) after a time as Chief Crown Prosecutor and, latterly, 25 years of environmental law practice, and currently a Board member of SOS GREAT LAKES
Background: Premier Wynne’s Government owns Ontario Power Generation Inc. (OPG). Kathleen Wynne, as head of the Government, has allowed OPG to continue to plan to build a nuclear waste dump on the shore of Lake Huron, the central of the five Great Lakes that provide drinking water to 40 million people in Canada and the U.S. This Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) would hold 400,000 cubic metres of Intermediate and Low Level Waste (I&LLW). ILW can include reactor parts and other decommissioning waste that will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. When that material leaks, as every other Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) in the world has, the rogue emissions will enter the Great Lakes, potentially causing unimaginable damage to the largest supply of fresh water in the world.
McKenna’s Dilemma: allowing this dump on the shore of Lake Huron is a dangerous and unnecessary gamble with our drinking water and would be in stark contrast to many very important environmental protection principles and initiatives, on which the Trudeau Government was elected in 2015. At the same time she may be reluctant to be seen to be opposing the ever-popular vote-getting ‘’green” nuclear energy industry led by OPG.
Please click here for Blog 1 where I tell you a little about SOS GREAT LAKES and explain the significance of an April 2017 Report from her Expert Panel (EP). The EP proposes major changes in Canadian Environmental Assessment to restore faith in the EA with new fairer processes. It can and should help her with her upcoming decision to reject or accept the conditional first step approval for OPG’s plan granted by the Harper-appointed Joint Review Panel (JRP) at Kincardine. (Her decision is currently scheduled for fall 2017.)
In Blog 1, I stated my thesis: the Minister’s independent EP’s April 2017 Report provides her at least two ways out of this dilemma. Both require courage but with the help of her EP she may even be able to escape while continuing full support of nuclear energy, at least its green production cycle.
Her first way out is the totality of the major errors and legal breaches described in Blogs 2 to 7.
Today I deal with the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and related federal guidelines relating to Human Health in an Environmental Assessment such as this one.
Dr. Stella Swanson, Chair of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) said this in 1991:
“One of the central problems in the debate about the nuclear fuel cycle is ignorance. Scientists simply do not know what the effects of chronic exposure to low-level radiation are, either in people or in other biota. We can guess, based on extrapolations from victims of high-level radiation such as atomic bombs and nuclear reactor accidents like Chernobyl. We will only begin to know for sure after several more decades have passed and a large population of exposed people has been studied. In the meantime, we have to ask: 'Do we really want to live in this uncertainty? What risks are we willing to accept as a society?’ ”
Failure to Provide Baseline Health Data
Federal Environment Impact Study guidelines (EIS) require that the proponent’s EIS must:
“(. . .) describe the current health profiles of the communities likely to be affected by the project. The proponent should examine the aspects of human health that are defined by the World Health Organization, and include consideration of physical health and wellbeing, and associated emotional, social, cultural, and economic aspects.”
The proponent’s EIS must provide information on population health of the communities in the regional study area. A description of community and public health services available to the residents of communities and to Aboriginal people in the regional study area must also be included.
Baseline health data in OPG’s EIS contained several omissions and errors:
· Cancer incidence rates specific to the Regional Study Are were not available.
· Aboriginal baseline data was incomplete; there was no evidence on which OPG could assume Aboriginal baseline data was the same as other residents.
· Seasonal residents’ baseline health was not assessed. Seasonal residents make up 30% of the population in Saugeen Shores and 20% of the population in Kincardine. OPG assumed that the existing overall health of seasonal residents is the same as that of local residents. There is no evidence on which to base that assumption.
· Baseline data for the incidence of thyroid cancer and leukemia, cancers historically most clearly linked to radiation exposure, were not listed in the EIS submitted by OPG.
Incomplete baseline data would not be acceptable for a prospective randomized trial, the gold standard for evidence in scientific research. For this project, in what amounts to a massive clinical trial testing the safety of a DGR, the standard should be no less. Should an adverse health outcome be identified in the future, how would it be known if its etiology preceded the construction of the DGR? For a project of limited physical and temporal dimensions this might be excused but certainly not for an enormous project with attendant perpetual risks.
There is evidence in the public record for the project that the local Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lynn, appeared in an OPG ad that promoted the safety of the DGR, an ad that was paid for by OPG. This raised ethical concerns and gives the appearance of bias towards the proponent by the Medical Officer of Health.
Responsibility for Drinking Water Quality
At the Minister’s Expert Panel (EP) hearings in November 2016, a citizen asked who was going to protect her drinking water which she gets from Lake Huron. One of the panel members asked, rhetorically, ‘Where was the Ontario Minister of the Environment?’ Silence. As the Minister responsible for drinking water quality, one would have, ordinarily, been present when drinking water quality was such an obvious concern of the public. Not so here. He was a Minister in the Government which wholly owned the proponent OPG who in this hearing was the putative polluter.
But he was not the only absent Minister. Drinking water issues relevant to human health also require the attention of both the Federal and Provincial Ministers of Health. In 2013 and 2014 both the then Ministers of Health from Ottawa and Queens Park were noticeably uninvolved.
Today, now that there has been more adverse publicity about the idea of putting a nuclear waste dump so close to one of the Great Lakes, millions of Canadians and Americans are concerned about human health effects, given the worldwide failure record of DGRs. Have we heard anything from the current Canadian or Ontario Ministers of Health? No. Will we?
Have we forgotten about Walkerton already? And Flint?
The Minister’s first route to avoid turning this dilemma into a disaster is to look at the totality of the major errors and legal breaches in Blogs 2 to 7. When she does, she will see a picture that is wildly out of sync with her Government’s 2015 Election platforms and her recent EP report. Rejection of the Kincardine JRP Report should be an obvious decision.
Rod McLeod, Director, SOS GREAT LAKES
PS We have now seen major errors and legal breaches in four subject areas; Blog 2 Community Acceptance, Blog 3, International Obligations, Blog 4 Abandoning Scienceand Blog 5 Human Health . The reader may find grounds to reject the DGR in any one of these but my caution is look at all Blogs 2-7 for the totality.