Law Reform: Air Quality Issues in Ontario

The Problem:

  • Air pollution is a major source of harm to human health and the environment. Ontario needs to set and enforce strong standards for local air quality in order to protect people from being exposed to air pollution.
  • CELA is concerned about how the air pollution regulatory regime is working and the resulting poor air quality in Ontario. While the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks sets out provincial air standards to protect human health, allowances for technical standards and site-specific standards enable certain facilities to emit many more times than the provincial air standards.
  • Cumulative effects of emissions are not sufficiently assessed when the Ministry is issuing environmental compliance approvals under the Environmental Protection Act that authorizes facilities to discharge chemicals or other substances into the air.
  • Facilities in Hamilton and Nanticoke are emitting up to 11,000 times allowable levels for substances such as benzene and benzo(a)pyrene because they have been given these types of alternative air standards.

The 3 Regulatory Mechanisms of Air Quality:

  • PROVINCIAL STANDARDS are the air quality standards that apply to all facilities in Ontario by default. The province of Ontario has implemented provincial air standards through O.Reg.419/05. These standards have been developed based on science and are intended to protect against adverse effects on people and the environment. These standards act as legal thresholds that all facilities’ emission must not exceed, unless they are granted exemptions from the Ministry.

  • TECHNICAL STANDARDS exempt certain industrial sectors from the provincial standards. The Ministry develops these less-stringent standards to consider technical feasibility for facilities. Facilities that operate in particular industries or with certain equipment could pollute under these technical standards. When the Ministry develops a technical standard or approves a facility’s registration, its proposals are posted on the ERO. Registered facilities are posted on the Technical Standards Registry.

  • SITE-SPECIFIC STANDARDS are granted to exempt individual facilities from complying to provincial standards. A facility can apply for a site-specific standard based on technical or economic infeasibility. Each standard would be in effect for 5-10 years. The Ministry’s proposals to grant a site-specific standard are posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario, which the public can comment on. The Ministry also updates a proposal with their decision when it is made. To this day, all requested site-specific standard proposals have been approved by the Ministry.

What Needs to Change?

CELA is seeking the following law reform on this regulatory regime:

  • A systematic review of site-specific standards and technical standards by the Ministry
  • Additional public notice and public engagement on new site-specific standard proposals
  • The public should be able to appeal Ministry decisions to issue site-specific standards to the Ontario Land Tribunal
  • A requirement for cumulative impact assessment of air quality in the geographic area before the Ministry approves a site-specific standard or technical standard registration
  • Shorter time for which a site-specific standard can be valid (maximum 2-3 years)
While there are federal air quality regulations that apply in Ontario, the focus of CELA’s law reform is on improving and strengthening the provincial regime.



Online – Pollution Reporting Form

Call – Spills Action Centre Tip Line:
Including spills to air
1-866-MOETIPS (663-8477)


Contact your local district office for the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks – to get more information or to share your concerns.


You can submit comments on air quality related-proposals that are posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.