Environment: The Super Enviroforce

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By Alessandra Cayley

Something about it reminds me of those TV shows like CSI and Without a Trace. Even its name projects me back in time, when, as a kid, I used to watch cartoons of super powerful leagues of superheroes, like Super Friends. Despite the lack of colourful costumes, the Enviroforce team could pass for one of them, with the work they perform daily, to ensure that environmental laws and procedures are being respected by businesses across Ontario.

But, what is Enviroforce and what do they do that is so important? “The term Enviroforce is the title used to summarize the different types of regulations and enforcement activities that the Ministry has”, explains Kate Jordan, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE).

The Enviroforce staff, called Environmental Officers, work in district offices across the province, a kind of “police” for environmental issues. Their job is to make sure that companies work in compliance with environmental regulations and requirements. Any sort of waste emitted into the air, water, or land requires approval from the MOE.

This multifunctional body that Jordan rightly compares to a “tool box”, is in charge of implementing laws and procedures, inspecting businesses, ordering issues, giving out warnings, and even acting on legal prosecutions when required.

Created in the late 70’s in response to the increase in awareness of environmental issues, the Ministry of the Environment acts provincially and is linked to the federal Environment Canada.

Like the famous fictional Catherine Willows, from CSI, some of the more than 1,800 Enviroforce employees are investigators. They are also lawyers, scientists, geologists, hydrologists, and engineers, working as a team. The cases they solve are related to environmental destruction, which can range from a basic improper waste dumping done by single individuals to more complicated cases, such as gas leaks, water or air contamination caused by large corporations. If the oil spill incident that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last April happened here, let’s say, in Lake Ontario, the Enviroforce would be involved.

“It’s law that any oil spill, for example, be reported to us first, so we can ensure that the proper steps are being taken to protect the environment”, says Jordan.

Obtaining a MOE Certificate of Approval is one of the mandatory steps for companies dealing with release of emissions to the air, discharge of pollutants to the water, provision of potable [drinkable] water supplies; also for those responsible for storage, transportation, creation or disposal of hazardous waste. One would be surprised at the list of businesses falling into these categories; besides the obvious dry cleaners, laboratories, dental and medical facilities, bakeries and even funeral homes are targets.

“We all have to have a hazardous waste number from the Ministry of the Environment”, explains Dominic Mazzone, Chairman of the Basic Cremation funeral service in Mississauga. He adds that crematoriums are heavily regulated by the MOE. The established company is ahead of its game, having designed green depositories for the deceased’s remains.

But a funeral home is not the same level of threat as something like a propane warehouse. Who doesn’t remember the fire and explosion of the Sunrise facility in Toronto in September 2008, which took the life of an employee and a brave firefighter and left several people with minor injuries?

After an investigation performed by Enviroforce specialists, the case was taken to court by the force’s prosecutors, and is still ongoing, awaiting a verdict. If found guilty, the owners of Sunrise will face steep fines of up to 6 million dollars.

According to Jordan, companies found guilty of infractions have to pay the municipality where the crime occurred and it’s up to the city how the money will be used.

But, like the villains in the cartoons, should the companies in Ontario fear the claws of Enviroforce? Yes and no. Yes, if they break the law, and their actions – purposely or not – damage the ecosystem. No, if they comply with the regulations, which exist to ensure a safe environment now and for future generations. And companies need to be proactive, like Basic Cremation. They didn’t wait for an Enviroforce inspector to knock on their doors and say that they should improve their procedures, did they?

However, businesses are not the only ones on MOE’s radar. We, as individuals, are too. How? For example, through the Drive Clean program, the mandatory emission test that we submit our car to every other year, designed to reduce the smog-causing pollutants in the air.

Talking about smog, the frequent alert you see in the news every day is a combined work from Enviroforce and Environment Canada meteorologists.

Just like Clark Kent, the Enviroforce team can surprise us, anywhere, at any time, and no need for a telephone booth or disguise.

For more information on the Ministry of the Environment or Enviroforce: click here
To report an act of pollution:
1-866-MOE-TIPS (1-866-663-8477) or email moe.tips@ene.gov.on.ca
To report a serious spill:
24-Hour Spills Action Centre at: 1-800-268-6060
To find an MOE office near to you click here

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