RESOLUTION: Community Right-to-Know

Victory! On Wednesday, December, 3, 2008, City of Toronto Councillors voted 33-3 in favour of adopting the Community Right-to-Know Bylaw which came into effect on January 1, 2010.

The Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Bylaw has three key elements:

  • About 7,000 small and medium-sized businesses will be required to report annually to the city if they use or release any of the specified 25 polluting substances, above specified thresholds.
  • The city will provide education programs to help facilities estimate data, report and identify ways to reduce chemicals and prevent pollution.
  • The public will be able to access the data through a website

Failures to report will be met with stiff fines — $5,000 for the first offence and $25,000 for the second. The 25 polluting substances covered under the bylaw are considered to be carcinogenic and a threat to public health.

This is a pioneering initiative of the City of Toronto that will help prevent pollution of the environment, neighbourhoods and workplaces while improving the health of its residents. The program was three years in the making. In early 2008 Medical Officer of Health David McKeown released the framework for an Environmental Reporting, Disclosure and Innovation (better known as the Community-Right-to-Know) Program. It makes the City of Toronto the first government in Canada to recognize that community right-to-know (CRTK) will lead to health protection. CRTK has been in place for decades in progressive US jurisdictions. It has led to pollution prevention, transformation to green industries, improved emergency response, cost savings for businesses and avoided health costs. The outpouring of public support has been tremendous — over 50 community, health, labour, business, and environmental groups signed on to support the initiative, David Suzuki advocated at City Hall for right to know, the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), of which WHEN is a part, launched the Secrecy is Toxic campaign, and hundreds of Torontonians sent messages to City Hall calling on them to enact this groundbreaking policy. Toronto residents can be proud: with your ongoing support we have paved the way for other cities across Canada to initiate and adopt similar bylaws — we all have a right to know! For more information on the CRTK bylaw, visit the City of Toronto website.

Background on CRTK

Community members have a right to know about toxic pollutants in their workplaces and neighbourhoods. Access to information on the transport, use, storage, and release of toxic chemicals is critical to both understanding and preventing health and environmental risks for all who live and work in Toronto. Community Right-to-Know (CRTK) provides detailed information on sources of pollution in our communities. Acting on this information, right-to-know bylaws have helped citizens and workers world-wide reduce the level of pollutants in their communities and workplaces. A Toronto bylaw can provide for safer, more prosperous communities through an enhanced ability to respond to and prevent industrial accidents, and provide support for the establishment of sustainable business practices in Toronto. For these reasons we support a Community Right-to-Know bylaw in Toronto that discloses the transport, use, storage, release, and health effects of toxic chemicals in our communities.

Toxic pollutants threaten our health

Toronto’s air is compromising our health. In fact, it can be deadly. Every year, 1700 Toronto residents die from health complications related to poor air quality.[i] At least 9 known human carcinogens are found regularly in our air.[ii] In 2003, Ontario regulations allowed over 7000 tonnes of hazardous chemicals to be released into Toronto’s air, land and water.[iii] These chemicals are toxic to humans, with many known or suspected to cause cancer, damage mammalian/human reproductive, respiratory and neurological systems, and disrupt hormone balance and normal growth and development in children.[iv] Our children are at greatest risk. Pound for pound, children breathe in more air and consume more food and water than adults. Some playgrounds may be built on, or near, contaminated soil. When children are exposed to toxins in our air, soil, food, water and/or products, their health may be affected now or in the future as their rapidly developing minds and bodies are more susceptible to long-term damage from toxins.[v] Workplace exposures to these chemicals threaten the health of workers who are also members of the community. Current legal standards do not prevent disease developing overtime. Existing right-to-know legislation is not effectively enforced and employers are not required to substitute non-toxic alternatives.

Many polluters don't report to the public

Most polluters are not legally required to disclose the toxic chemicals they use, store or produce. In Toronto, there are over 40,000 facilities using and releasing toxic substances.[vi] More than 97 per cent are not mandated to report their activities to the public.[vii] A recent case-study in South Riverdale revealed that of 115 companies suspected of releasing chemicals carcinogenic to humans, only 11 reported their releases.[viii]

CRTK will benefit Toronto residents, businesses and workers

CRTK laws and programs fuel voluntary reductions in toxic chemical use and pollution. Industries can use data to identify opportunities to substitute hazardous substances for less toxic ones, making their workplaces and neighbourhoods inherently safer both on a day to day basis and in the event of an emergency. In the United States, a recent review of federal Risk Management Plans identified that many facilities reduce or eliminate hazardous substances as a way of reducing the risks that may result from an accident or terrorist attack.[ix] CRTK can also benefit companies financially. Understanding potential environmental risk can reduce legal liability and facilitate regulatory compliance. Substitution of toxic materials with safer alternatives reduces direct costs to companies, associated with the regulation and disposal of toxic materials, as well as indirect costs, such as workers compensation premiums. Consumers are choosing to purchase and invest in environmentally and socially responsible companies. Many investors incorporate environmental, social, and governance criteria into their selection and management of investments, therefore, environmental responsibility can enhance the financial returns of a company.[x] CRTK encourages investments in production processes that lessen the environmental impact of industrial activity, thus contributing to a more stable, sustainable and progressive industrial economy.


[i] Toronto Public Health. Air Pollution Burden of Illness in Toronto: 2004 Summary. 2004. [ii] Toronto Public Health. Ten Key Carcinogens in Toronto Workplaces and Environment: Assessing the Potential for Exposure. 2002. [iii] Environment Canada. National Pollutant Release Inventory 2003 Database. 2005. [iv] Canadian Environmental Law Association and Environmental Defence. PollutionWatch: Health Effects Summary Viewed March 2005. [v] Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment. Child Health and the Environment - A Primer. 2005. [vi] ToxProbe Inc. Potential For Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Ten Carcinogens in Toronto. Prepared for Toronto Public Health by Pavel Muller, Ph.D. [vii] Percentage based on facilities reporting releases through the National Pollutant Release Inventory for 2003. Environment Canada. National Pollutant Release Inventory 2003 Database. 2005. [viii] Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition. Report of the Occupational and Environmental Carcinogens Working Group – Development of a Community Right-To-Know Strategy for Toronto: Case Study in South Riverdale/Beaches Community. 2004. [ix] Orum, Paul. Preventing Toxic Terrorism: How Some Chemical Facilities are Removing Danger to American Communities. Center for American Progress. 2006. [x] Orlitzky, M., et al. Corporate social and financial performance: A meta-analysis. Organizational Studies. 2003; pp.403-441.