Environmentalists Decry "Arthur Andersen" Approach to Toxic Accounting

MiningWatch Canada, Sierra Club of Canada

For Immediate Release

(Ottawa) The Sierra Club of Canada and MiningWatch Canada today expressed frustration with the recently posted inventory of federal contaminated sites in Canada.

The federal Auditor General's requirement that federal departments move to a system of "full cost accounting" has meant that departments, under the direction of Treasury Board, were required to inventory contaminated sites under their control in order to account for the liabilities they represent. Citing incomplete records and omissions, environmentalists today expressed disappointment in the long-awaited inventory.

"By not including sites previously owned or contaminated by the federal government, sites the federal government has potential legal and certain ethical responsibility for, they are essentially covering up," said Daniel Green, science advisor to the Sierra Club of Canada. "In the case of the Sydney Tar Ponds — where a significant part of the toxic mess was caused by a crown corporation and federal government subsidised activities — that liability is ignored. When clean-up costs are identified, however, the federal government may be on the hook for a quarter of billion dollars — it looks like the Arthur Andersen approach to toxic accounting to me."

"The inventory doesn't take into account the legacy of poor regulation on Canadians' health and environment, and it ignores liability for abandoned mine sites. Uranium City, for example, is a city living with what Ralph Klein called one of Canada's worst environmental nightmares, yet all that shows up on the inventory is an aircraft navigation beacon containing PAHs," said Joan Kuyek, National Director of MiningWatch Canada. "And where is the federal liability for the Giant Mine in Yellowknife?"

Weaknesses in the inventory identified by MiningWatch and the Sierra Club include:

  • The inventory fails to recognize federal liability in sites that since have been sold off;
  • It doesn't include toxic sites owned by Crown Corporations, like Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL);
  • It fails to acknowledge contaminated sites owned by private interests or other levels of government;
  • It ignores liability for cleanup of abandoned mines; and
  • It doesn't consider sites that were "remediated" prior to the inventory.

"The whole point of the process was to account for federal liability around contaminated sites," said Angela Rickman, deputy director of the Sierra Club of Canada. "By fudging the books, the federal government is misleading the taxpayer and hiding future liabilities. Money that could be set aside while we are enjoying a surplus to cover cleanup of both current sites and future liabilities just won't be put aside to the degree it should."

Treasury Board's definition of remediation could include anything from real cleanup to shovelling sludge into barrels. Toxics left in sealed barrels on a site might not show up on an inventory, although remaining a health and environmental hazard.

"A full and honest accounting would include all of the federal government's toxic liabilities, including all sites, both currently and formerly owned, covered up and so-called remediated sites, and finally, sites that contain federal hazardous waste that might one day leak" said Rickman. "Ultimately, the responsible party is the owner of the waste, not the owner of the site."

Environmentalists have been asking for years for a federal program to clean up toxic sites and move communities at risk. The Clean Canada Fund, part of the Green Budget Coalition's package of proposed ecological fiscal reform initatives would address these issues if adopted by the federal government.

- 30 -

Information: Sierra Club of Canada (613) 241-4611; MiningWatch Canada: (613) 569-3439