On December 10, 2018, GFL Environmental Inc. was sentenced after pleading guilty in the Ontario Court of Justice to violating federal environmental legislation. The company was fined $300,000.
The charges were laid January 2017 after inspectors determined that GFL had supplied tetrachloroethylene, also known as PERC, to nine dry cleaning operations in Toronto, Newmarket, Scarborough, Mississauga, Waterloo, London and Cambridge that had not adhered to containment measures required by law. According to an indictment filed with the court at that time, infractions noted by enforcement officers included inadequate wastewater containment systems and floor drain plugs that were not resistant to PERC.
The company, along with president and CEO Patrick Dovigi, vice-president of sales and marketing John Petlichkovski, and Louie Servos, identified as a GFL employee, were each charged with 16 counts under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, according to the indictment.
The resolution presented in court on December 10th saw GFL pleading guilty to two counts. The remaining charges were withdrawn at the request of the Crown.
After an investigation led by Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers, charges were laid and GFL Environmental Inc. pleaded guilty to two counts of contravening the Tetrachloroethylene (Use in Dry Cleaning and Reporting Requirements) Regulations (SOR 203/79) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 for selling tetrachloroethylene, commonly referred to as “PERC” to owners or operators of dry-cleaning facilities that did not meet regulatory standards.
GFL was fined $150,000 for each offence; the minimum fine for a first-time offender is $100,000. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 allows courts to fine offenders up to a maximum of $4 million.
SOR 203/79 prohibits anyone from selling tetrachloroethylene to dry cleaners unless the dry-cleaning facility is compliant with the equipment specifications set out in the Regulations, which aim to reduce releases into the environment.
The Regulations are unique in that in places the onus of the seller of “PERC” to ensure that the buyer (typically dry cleaning facilities) have the proper equipment and training to prevent the release of PERC into the environment.
Tetrachloroethylene, used commercially since the early 1900s, has been an important chlorinated solvent worldwide. Tetrachloroethylene is a colourless, volatile liquid with an ether-like odour. It is also commonly referred to as perchloroethylene or PERC.
The most important routes of exposure to tetrachloroethylene for the general public are ingesting contaminated water and inhaling ambient air. Improper disposal and releases from dry cleaning facilities and landfills can lead to groundwater contamination and potential environmental exposures.
PERC is a dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL), meaning that it is only slightly soluble and more dense than water. When released in the subsurface, it will migrate downward, adsorbing into soil particles, slightly dissolving into groundwater, and eventually making its way to bedrock where it will pool and continue to dissolve into the groundwater. As a result, PERC is very difficult to remediate from the subsurface.
As a result of this conviction, GFL Environmental Inc. will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.
The $300,000 fine will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund. The Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) is a specified purpose account, administered by Environment Canada, to provide a mechanism for directing funds received as a result of fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to priority projects that will benefit our natural environment. The Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) follows the Polluter Pays Principle to help ensure that those who cause environmental damage or harm to wildlife take responsibility for their actions.