STATS Spotlight

Dirty Canucks

by Howard Fienberg
October 1998

Conventional wisdom holds that Canada is a land of upright mounties, polite and law-abiding citizens and virgin snow. That is why an environmental watchdog caused a fair stink this month, with the Toronto Star reporting "Ontario Factories Big Polluters." Although ranking only 18th per capita and 37th per km2 in the survey of pollutant release in provinces and states in North America, Ontario produced 155 million kg of total pollutants, ranking third behind only Texas and Louisiana. After years of the taking flack from Canada for its supposedly dirty habits (acid rain exports, in particular), the US can now bite back.

Despite the existence of a vastly greater number of American factories, each Canadian one, on average, produced almost twice as much pollution as their American peers. And in comparison to last year’s study, Canadian pollution seems on the rise (4% increase) while American pollutant release is falling (2% drop). As per usual, the report hit the Canadian press hard, but missed most of the US except for the New York Times. The report does have limitations. Most importantly, the reports suffer from a three year lag, making it harder to relate to the present day. The Commission itself warned that the "picture" is not complete, since it only counts certain chemicals agreed to be "of concern." There was no accounting for a car exhaust, which could make for interesting comparisons between D.C.’s beltway and Ontario’s 401. The Ottawa Citizen also noted that the study "doesn’t count electrical utilities," some of our biggest industries, which produce plenty of coal fumes and nuclear waste. That might shift rankings considerably: Quebec Hydro could certainly sully its province by vaulting it up the wrong ladder. However, the basic point of the report is clear: it is not just the US that is an industrial sess pit.

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