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In the 2012 Spring Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the Commissioner focuses on the relationship between economic growth and environmental protection, the continuing debate often misdescribed as  “jobs versus the environment.” He again concludes that the alleged tradeoff is a spurious one, and that environmental protections have major economic benefits.

One of the sectors he examines is contaminated sites.

“The federal government is responsible for managing thousands of contaminated sites across Canada (Chapter 3, Federal Contaminated Sites and Their Impacts). The associated risks to human health and the environment are as varied as the contaminated sites themselves; these range from extremely large abandoned mines and nuclear waste dumps to hundreds of smaller sites, such as buried fuel tanks. The budget for managing the sites is approximately $4 billion, and the funding is scheduled to end in 2020.

… the government has made progress in managing the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory. About a third of the 22,000 sites have been closed; that is, they require no further action. Addressing the rest is likely to be a much tougher task, for several reasons. First, the remaining budget for assessing the environmental and human health risks of sites has shrunk by more than 60 percent, and so the capacity to identify new risks has dwindled. Second, the government has identified the sites where environmental and human health risks are greatest and has channelled the bulk of financial resources to the largest four, including Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories and low-level radioactive waste sites in Port Hope, Ontario. With available funding consumed by a few priority sites, it is not clear how the more than 10,000 other sites will be managed. Third, the total estimated financial liability for federal contaminated sites is about $500 million higher than the amount of dedicated funding that remains. Finally, there is no lead agency accountable for managing this environmental liability across the federal government.

Some of the thousands of contaminated sites are a testament to poor planning, the failure of initial assessments to anticipate and avoid future environmental and human health problems, and a lack of ongoing mitigation to lower the environmental risks during operations. Many of the sites are buried and out of sight, but they will impose environmental and financial burdens on coming generations.”

Meanwhile, according to the CBC, the federal government identified 142 contaminated sites as of last September where pollutants need to be contained or eliminated because of a long-term or immediate threat to human health or the environment. The 142 sites, shown on the CBC’s map, are only those that have reached step eight in a long process that federal departments and agencies must follow to assess and develop plans to clean up or contain damage posed by contaminants.

Step eight is what’s called “remediation/risk management strategy,” which includes identifying the contaminants and whether they are present in soil or groundwater, and developing a plan to remove or treat the contaminants, as well as a detailed contingency plan in case the contaminants are released into the environment. Thousands of other sites are still working their way through the process.

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