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Environmental Convictions & Contaminated Property: Ontario Summary for 2018

The Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MOECP) publishes publishes an annual report on environmental penalties issued in the previous calendar year for certain land or water violations for companies subject to the Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA) Regulations.  Companies subject to the MISA Regulations belong to one of the nine industrial sectors found in the Effluent Monitoring and Effluent Limits (EMEL) regulations.  The summary report for 2017 was published in the Spring of 2018.

Under the MISA Regulations, environmental penalties can range from $1,000 per day for less serious violations such as failure to submit a quarterly report under the MISA Regulations  to $100,000 per day for the most serious violations, including a spill with a significant impact.

For serious offences under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act and Ontario Water Resources Act, the maximum and minimum corporate fines for each day on which the offence occurs is as follows:

  1. not less than $25,000 and not more than $6,000,000 on a first conviction;
  2. not less than $50,000 and not more than $10,000,000 on a second conviction; and
  3. not less than $100,000 and not more than $10,000,000 on each subsequent conviction.

In the past, Ontario Environment Ministry would publish a more comprehensive environmental enforcement report that covered all penalties, fines and convictions.

In a 2011 blog, Diane Saxe, Ontario’s former Environmental Commissioner and former partner at Siskinds Law Firm, wrote that  a typical year, the Ontario Environment launches about 150 to 175 prosecutions. About 75% of them are resolved by guilty pleas; about 5% are acquitted at trial; about 10% are convicted of something at trial; about 10% are withdrawn.

As the end of the calendar year approaches, the staff at Hazmat Management Magazine thought it would be useful to review some of the more significant environmental convictions related to contaminated property.  That summary can be found below.

Environmental Consultant and an Individual fined $50,000 for False RSC Incidents

In the Spring, an Ontario-based consulting firm that provides environmental, geotechnical, and hydrogeological consulting services was convicted when an employee falsified  Environment Ministry Letters of Acknowledgement to Records of Site Conditions (RSCs) for two properties.

An RSC is a statement on the environmental condition of a property and is typically a requirement by a municipality if a contaminated property is remediated and a redevelopment is proposed that involves a more sensitive land use (i.e., from industrial to residential).  The environmental consultant that performed the environmental site investigation at the site (a Phase I ESA and possibly a Phase II ESA) submits an RSC to the Environment Ministry.  The Environment Ministry issues an acknowledgement of the RSC.

The offences occurred in the Spring of 2014 and winter of 2015.  When the Consulting firm realized one of its employees had issued falsified documents related to the RSCs it immediately informed the affected owners of the related properties.  In the Fall of 2015, an owner/developer of another construction project in the Greater Toronto Area notified the ministry of concerns relating to their RSC submissions of which the consulting firm in question was involved.  At that time, the Environment Ministry commenced an audit and investigations.

The consulting firm was found guilty of one violation under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), was fined $35,000 plus a Victim Fine Surcharge (VFS) of $8,750, and was given 30 days to pay. On the same date, former employee was found guilty of two violations under the EPA, was fined $15,000 plus a VFS of $3,750, and was given 18 months to pay.

Muskoka Cottage Owner fined $30,000 for Discharging Fuel Oil into Water Well

In the winter, a Muskoka homeowner was convicted for discharging fuel and other petroleum hydrocarbon into a water well which can impair the quality of the water. He was fined $30,000 plus a victim surcharge with 6 months to pay .

The conviction stems from an incident that occurred in the spring of 2016.  On May 16, 2016, the homeowner of a cottage on Lake of Bays poured heating fuel oil down a neighbor’s well, damaging the quality of the water in the well. The incident was referred to the Environment Ministry’s investigations and Enforcement branch, resulted in charges and one conviction through a guilty plea.

Residential Property Owner fined $3,000 for Falsely Claiming Property was Remediated

In the winter, a homeowner in Guelph was convicted of failing to apply with two provincial officers orders issued under the environmental protection act (EPA) . The homeowner was fined $3,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $750 and was given 15 days to pay the fine .

The violation occurred in 2013 when the homeowner bought a residential property in Guelph , which earlier had been contaminated with oil fuel from a historic spill at the property . In the December of 2014, the homeowner put the residence up for sale.  The Environment Ministry subsequently received a complaint that the house was up for sale but had not been adequately remediated.

During the course of its investigations, the Environment Ministry found the previous owner had claimed the property had been remediated but discovered that no remediation had been conducted.  An Order was issued by the Environment Ministry for all documentation related to any remediation at the property to be submitted.  Despite providing an extension on a submission date, the not information was provided to the Environment Ministry.

The incident was referred to the ministry’s Investigations and Enforcement Branch, resulting in charges and the conviction against the property owner.

Fine of $30,000 for Discharging Contaminants and Illegal Operation of Waste Disposal Site

In the winter, a business located in the County of Essex and its owner was convicted of three offences under the Environmental Protection Act( EPA) and was also fined $30,000 for discharging dust that cause and was likely to cause an adverse effect, and being deposited at a property that is not allowed nor an approved waste disposal site.

A business owner in Essex County accepted 189 truckloads of  construction waste in 2014 despite the fact that property was not approved as a waste disposal site.

In 2015, the business owner was operating a farm tractor to turn soil at the site. The operation resulted in the release of plumes of dust which adversely affected nearby residents and their properties . The incident was referred to the Environment Ministry’s Investigations Branch.