All comments received during the comment period, whether by email, regular mail, or the Environmental Registry website were considered as part of the decision making process by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).
The majority of the 249 individual comments were received from residents of Guelph. Some were from other parts of Ontario, and several from other provinces.
Consultation on this proposal also resulted in a number of petitions.
One comment contained a file containing more than 19,000 signatures to a Care2 petition opposing the proposed application. “150 of these signatories are from Guelph, and over 1,300 from Canada. Along with more than 10,000 people from the United States and signatories from over 20 other countries.“
One comment referred to a petition at change.org with 1,200 opposing the SSS request.
On February 16, 2016, a petition with over 180 names was tabled to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that stated:
“Please deny the Owens Corning plant in Guelph their request to obtain a site-specific standard which would make them exempt from meeting new provincial discharge limits around the amount of hexavalent chromium the company is allowed to discharge. Hexavalent chromium has been identified on Environment Canada’s toxic substances list for its potential harmful effects on the environment and human health.”
The following is a summary of the major comments and how they were considered by the ministry in finalizing the decision.
Many commenters asked why there should be any consideration of allowing a company to emit a contaminant above the air standard. “Why have a limit if it’s OK to emit more?” Some commenters stated that there is a health reason for the ministry setting the air standard for hexavalent chromium at the new level, and that anything above the air standard is unsafe and unacceptable. Some people felt that this would set a precedent for other companies to follow regarding not meeting an air standard. Many comments demanded “no exemption” from the regulation, and that the facility comply with the air standard or shut down.
Ontario drives improvements in environmental performance through investments in best available technologies and environmental practices. Our unique regulatory approach is to set standards that are protective of human health, and to use these standards to evaluate the performance of industrial facilities. Those facilities that can meet the air standards do not need to take any further actions and, in this way, resources are focused exactly where needed to reduce risks to local communities.
The Local Air Quality Regulation recognizes that some facilities may not be able to meet the new air standards by the phase-in date because of economic challenges or limitations of existing technology. When this is the case, the regulation allows companies to apply for a site-specific standard.
The Ministry evaluates site-specific standard requests to ensure emissions are within a range of acceptable risk, and that the company is doing the best it can to reduce them.
The Ministry may approve a site-specific standard for a limited timeframe provided the company is taking actions to reduce air emissions as much as possible with technology-based solutions and best practices. This approach ensures industries are improving their performance and decreasing emissions to better protect the environment.
The Ministry closely oversees their progress using a framework for managing risk that was developed in cooperation with Public Health Units in Ontario and other stakeholders. A facility that meets its site-specific standard is in compliance with the regulation.
Prior to 2011, the ministry referred to a guideline that covered all forms of chromium (divalent, trivalent, metallic and hexavalent chromium).
The ministry looked at the science for chromium and developed two new different standards that reflect the health effects associated with each of those forms. The ministry has established a new standard specifically for the form of hexavalent chromium as well as one for the other forms. Both of these standards are lower (i.e. more stringent) than the previous guideline. The hexavalent chromium standard that comes into effect July 1, 2016 is a new air standard.
The ministry’s standard is based on cancer effects that may occur over a lifetime of continuous exposure to hexavalent chromium and is set at a concentration that reflects negligible risk.
Air standards are set at concentrations well below those where effects are expected. Exposure to a contaminant at a concentration above the air standard does not mean adverse effects will occur, but the risk of adverse effects increases with increased concentrations.
Commenters, many of whom are residents of Guelph, worry what the health hazard/risk of cancer will be to them from the facility emissions of hexavalent chromium. Many residents in the neighbourhood are concerned especially for their children, who live, go to school, and play in the parks and sport fields surrounding the OC Guelph facility. There was also worry about the lack of information on the effects of hexavalent chromium on pregnant women and children.
The health risk from any chemical depends on both its hazard (the effects it can cause) and the amount of exposure a person has to that chemical. In occupational settings (where worker exposure is significantly greater than that of the general population), long-term exposure to high concentrations of hexavalent chromium in air has been linked predominantly to respiratory cancers. For this reason, hexavalent chromium is recognized as a compound that causes cancer in humans. Exceeding the air standard does not imply that an adverse effect will occur but the risk of adverse effects increases as the concentration increases.
In the residential and park areas very close to the facility, the modelled concentration of hexavalent chromium (based on current operating conditions) is associated with an increased cancer risk of approximately 1 in 100,000 and conservatively assumes continuous exposure (from birth until death). This concentration is within the range of risks considered negligible by various regulatory bodies. This concentration is expected to be lower when the site-specific standard action plan is implemented.
As a part of the site specific standard request, Owens Corning has proposed an Action Plan that includes significant technology changes in 2016 to reduce hexavalent chromium emissions, and thus, lower potential exposure concentrations. Following action plan implementation, hexavalent chromium concentration is expected to be lowered. In the residential and park areas the maximum concentration is associated with a cancer risk of approximately 4 in 1,000,000. This concentration is within the range of risks considered negligible by the Ministry and other jurisdictions reviewed.
It should be noted that the above mentioned concentrations represent maximum levels which are assumed to be worst-case exposure situations. Actual exposure (and overall risk) to residents is expected to be significantly less.
Many people identified concern for the impact of hexavalent chromium air emissions on the nearby river, river organisms, and downstream water users. People also expressed concerns for the impact of air emissions on plants, soil, and animals.
Hexavalent chromium (Cr6) can be readily reduced to tri-valent chromium (Cr3) in the environment (e.g. atmosphere, soil, and water) by organic matter and inorganic minerals. The Cr3 chromium species is comparatively less toxic and is not considered to be carcinogenic. However, it should be mentioned that Cr3 can be converted to Cr6 under some conditions (e.g. in the presence of strong oxidants). The hexavalent chromium emitted from the Owens Corning facility is not expected to have an impact on the river, its organisms or downstream water users.
Chromium is present in all soils, but the Cr6 form is not always detectable. Chromium may be deposited on the soil as Cr6 or Cr3, but it is likely that any Cr6 will be reduced to Cr3 in a typical garden soil with reasonably high organic matter content. Chromium is not readily available in garden soils (usually less than one percent of the chromium present in the soil) and chromium is not readily taken up by plants. Most of the chromium will be retained in the roots and not move into the shoots, leaves or fruits. If chromium containing dust falls on plants and remains dry, uptake will not occur. If the dust is wetted by irrigation systems or natural precipitation, it is likely that the dust will be washed from the plant onto the soil. In either case, uptake into the plant will be negligible. Washing garden produce before eating will help to remove any chromium containing dust that may be on the plant surfaces.
Many commenters wrote that the company has known about the new hexavalent chromium standard for a long time, and should not be given any more time to comply with the new air standard.
Some commenters support a site-specific standard for the company to make reductions, but also stated that ten years is too long, and new improvements in technology should be implemented sooner if they become feasible.
An air standard for hexavalent chromium was proposed in 2009, and public consultation followed, including a proposal on the Environmental Registry. The ministry made a decision in 2011 for a new standard, and provided a five-year a phase-in for companies (for the July 1, 2016 date). In 2012-13 Owens Corning installed and evaluated new prototype technologies for reducing hexavalent chromium. Implementation of the successful technologies from this evaluation are part of the company’s site-specific standard action plan to reduce hexavalent chromium emissions.
The company asked for a site-specific standard approval for the maximum ten years allowed by the regulation to reflect the investment and operation cycle of the glass-melting furnace and channels which dictates the next available opportunity to install new reduction technologies.
The regulation allows for a site-specific standard to be at least five years and not more than ten years.
Owens Corning has proposed an action plan that includes significant technology changes to be made in 2016. The Ministry expects implementation of the company’s action plan will result in an 88 per cent reduction in the maximum off-site concentration of hexavalent chromium. Installing other feasible technology would still not meet the air standard, and costs would be unreasonable relative to the anticipated reductions.
As part of the site-specific action plan, Owens Corning will evaluate emerging technologies that could be available in the future to further reduce emissions of hexavalent chromium.
Many neighbours commented that there are often odours and fumes from the facility, and worry about what chemicals are contained in those odours.
The ministry has received odour complaints about the facility in the past and has identified this issue with Owens Corning. The company has identified potential odour sources (volatile organic compounds) and is undertaking an odour mitigation plan to resolve these issues.
Neighbours can contact the ministry through the Spill Action Centre 1-800-268-6060 (toll-free), or 1-855-515-2759 (TTY) when they experience odours from the facility.
Some commenters have asked about the synergistic impact of hexavalent chromium with other chemicals emitted from the facility, or into air that is already polluted. Many commenters stated that synergistic effects of hexavalent chromium with other emissions such as toluene from the facility have not been studied. One comments asked about the further effects of local traffic emissions.
In general, the ministry sets standards and manages emissions from regulated facilities using a chemical-by-chemical approach. Data regarding interactions of chemicals are limited. Where such information exists, we may set air standards for a chemical group and assess similarly structured contaminants as a group. Although toluene is also emitted from the facility, the available data does not suggest additive or synergistic interactions with Cr6. Toluene is not considered a carcinogen.
There were several recommendations from commenters regarding tracking the progress of the company’s actions, long term monitoring of emissions, and keeping the community informed.
Most of the facility improvements, resulting in reduction of hexavalent chromium emissions, will take place in 2016. Many commenters have demanded information on concentrations of hexavalent chromium in the community.
Following the installation of the new changes to reduce emissions, the emission reductions will be evaluated using source testing of all hexavalent chromium sources, and the air dispersion modelling report will be updated and shared with the ministry and community.
As a result of public comments, the ministry is requiring that ambient monitoring be carried out to evaluate hexavalent chromium concentrations in the community over time. Owens Corning is required to obtain an Environmental Compliance Approval for the process changes that are part of the company’s proposed site-specific action plan. An Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) often contains conditions for monitoring and reporting to keep the public aware of a company’s progress.
For the Owens Corning Guelph glass plant, as part of a new ECA for the company’s operations, there will be a requirement for ambient monitoring for hexavalent chromium, as well as a requirement for a public liaison committee (PLC). Topics for the PLC would include, but not be limited to, the progress of the Action Plan for the hexavalent chromium site-specific standard, and the sharing of monitoring data.
The site-specific standard approval also has a condition for the company to provide the ministry a written summary of the measures taken each calendar year to implement the Action Plan. The ministry will closely oversee the company’s progress to ensure they are significantly reducing air emissions.
Some comments were critical of how consultation was made, and asked who was notified of the request.
The site-specific standard process includes requirements for a facility to consult with its local community before a request is submitted to the Ministry, as well as for the Ministry to ensure information about a facility’s request is accessible and community comments are considered in the ministry’s decisions.
Owens Corning met the notification requirements, sending more than 4,100 letters to neighbouring property owners and tenants, including properties beyond the area required by the regulation. Notices were published in the Guelph Mercury and the Guelph Tribune.
The company held public information sessions on March 4, 2015 that were attended by 60 residents, employees and public officials.
The company also maintained a website (http://www.ocguelph.com/) with details of its request, key dates and developments.
Before notices were sent, the company met with City of Guelph officials, officials of the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, local school boards, the University of Guelph, Guelph Water Works, Sacred Heart School and others to brief them on the planned request and seek their input. The company also responded to and initiated outreach to the Guelph Mercury to broaden community awareness before the public meeting. Following the meeting, the company submitted a letter to the editor (published on March 17, 2015 in the Guelph Tribune, and March 23, 2015 in the Guelph Mercury) to ensure that the website was publicized.
Many commenters were worried that the government would put neighbour's health second to the company's profitability, and keeping people employed.
Regulating air contaminants from industrial sources is a priority in Ontario. The ministry regulates contaminants in air because we want to be protective of communities that are close to industrial sources.
We want to improve local air quality while considering what is technologically or economically possible for industry. Facilities that cannot meet the standards must put in place ministry-approved action plans that require best available technologies and demonstrate improvement. Decisions are made according to the ministry’s framework for managing risk, which was developed in cooperation with public health units.
Commenters identified that there is increasing investment in residential development in the area around the Owens Corning facility. Some worry about a decrease in their property values due to the facility’s operations. Some say they will move away if the facility does not meet the air standard.
This concern will be forwarded to the City of Guelph for planning considerations.
Some people also expressed concern for the health of the employees in the facility.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour regulates worker exposure inside an industrial facility.
Some commenters asked for further research on potential exposures to hexavalent chromium and their effect on public and environmental health; what are the costs that will be incurred by our public health care system if local residents develop illnesses due to the chemicals released; and want to see a statistical analysis to see if there has been a greater frequency of illness caused by hexavalent chromium in the air for those residents living near the plant on York Road.
This concern will be fowarded to the Public Health Unit for consideration of studies on whether there are any related health issues in the area.
Many commenters expressed a concern that the company appeared to not be investing in the community, pointing to job reductions and air emissions. Several commenters had suggestions for the company to invest more in the community.
This is a comment for the company, and the ministry will provide this feedback to the company.