April 22, 1996
Quebec’s bureaucrats don’t appreciate our findings. They complain that our recent study of sewage pollution in Quebec makes them look like they’re incompetent, or not doing their jobs. And no wonder. The study, by Environment Probe researcher Martin Nantel, points out that although Quebec has made considerable progress since the 1970s (when wastewater treatment facilities served less than two per cent of the population), 376 municipalities, representing 1.5 million people, still flush their sewage directly into lakes and rivers. When we released the study early this year, media interest created great consternation in government ranks. The Environment Minister is now demanding explanations from senior bureaucrats, who berate our uncompromising positions.
Environment Probe isn’t likely to make any more friends in government ranks on the West Coast when we release our just-completed study of sewage pollution in British Columbia. That study concentrates on sewage’s adverse effects on salmon and other fish. Sewage pollution degrades aquatic habitat, robbing water of oxygen, preventing sunlight from reaching plants, and damaging spawning grounds. It can also directly harm fish, clogging their gills, scraping exposed membranes, causing stress and disease, and interfering with reproduction and feeding. Treatment plant effluents that are disinfected with chlorine, but not subsequently dechlorinated, can burn fish gills and induce convulsions; chlorinated effluents—characterizing 20 of BC’s sewage treatment plants—can be deadly to fish hundreds of metres downstream. Such threats to fish pose more than an environmental problem. Given the fisheries’ overwhelming importance to BC’s economy, sewage polluters’ disregard for fish constitutes a real economic risk.
Environment Probe supporters appreciate our research and public education projects. Meanwhile, our conclusions often make polluters—and the governments who have licensed or subsidized those polluters—squirm. We’re not afraid to be critical. But we also strive to be constructive, always taking a solutions-oriented approach stressing guiding principles and suggesting concrete reforms.
Such reforms characterize our recent work on fisheries, which, perhaps for this very reason, has made a real splash in the New Brunswick press. Because of the failure of remote governments to manage large scale fisheries, we’ve been looking into the ecological implications of establishing individual or community fishing rights. Experience in other countries indicates that secure rights empower fishermen to protect their resources from pollution; secure rights also provide fishermen with incentives to reduce fishing pressures, implement conservation measures, and enhance stocks and their habitats. We recently completed a chapter on this issue for an upcoming book on Atlantic fisheries, and are currently preparing a paper and a speech for a conference in Vancouver on the BC salmon crisis.
We’ve also been involved in what I believe is groundbreaking work on the siting of controversial facilities. Our research shows that the surest way to avoid “NIMBY” is to give decision-making power to all communities of interest likely to be affected by a proposed project: those bearing the risks and costs of a proposed facility should benefit from it, and they should have a deciding say in whether or not it goes ahead. In the future, we will be promoting these principles to protect communities and individuals from the adverse effects of facilities as diverse as landfills and pipelines.
As you can see, we’ve been extremely busy and productive. If you agree that we’re engaged in timely and valuable work, I would urge you to support our efforts.You can guess that our research gets no assistance from governments and corporations; our research and public education projects depend on your support.
If you have questions or comments about our current or past projects, or if you’d like more information, please don’t hesitate to write or call. If you wish to contact me by e-mail, my address is ElizabethBrubaker@nextcity.com. I always appreciate hearing from our supporters.