Pollution Probe is a Canadian charitable environmental organization (Charitable BN 108092701 RR0001) founded in September 1969 by University of Toronto students and professors.
Over the past 5 decades, Pollution Probe has been at the forefront of progress on a range of environmental issues. Progress on many of these issues took decades of hard work to achieve.
We pursue environmental gains by working productively with governments, industry and the public, with a steadfast commitment to Clean Air, Clean Water, and a Healthy Planet.
We engage people as thinkers to nurture and act on areas of consensus. Our niche in the environmental movement lies in our systems approach, which embraces three principal drivers for progress:
Canada is a place where all people live, work, and prosper in harmony with a healthy environment.
To find substantive and enduring solutions to pressing environmental issues.
We are non-partisan and non-ideological and operate as follows:
Pollution Probe was founded in September 1969 by University of Toronto students and professors, in the wake of a CBC documentary called The Air of Death that highlighted the damaging impacts of air pollution on human health.
Over the past 5 decades, Pollution Probe has been at the forefront of progress on a range of environmental issues. Progress on many of these issues took decades of hard work to achieve, and some remain unresolved. Our roles included forming partnerships and coalitions with other environmental groups, health organizations, leading industry players, academics, and dedicated public servants. Political champions also played influential roles, as did the media and the public.
In this decade by decade profile, we highlight just some of the many important and high-profile issues we have worked on since our inception.
In 1969 we petitioned the federal government to ban DDT in pesticides. The government restricted the use of DDT in the 1970s, and our work on the issue continued into subsequent decades.
In 1973 we launched a campaign sending travelling caravans to 140 Ontario communities to teach them how to develop their own recycling programs. In 1975 we coined the 3Rs of ‘waste Reduction, Reuse and Recycling’ and published a seminal 4-volume report on Real and Imaginary Barriers to Recycling.
Phosphorous in the Great Lakes
In 1970, we lobbied governments and raised public awareness of the damage being caused by phosphates in detergents. The federal government responded by limiting the amounts of phosphates in detergents, and then expanding the limits to a range of cleaning products. In 1972, Canada and the U.S. signed the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), in which they agreed to reduce pollution from industries and communities, and to limit the amount of phosphorus entering the lakes.
In 1979, we were a key player in launching the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain. The Coalition lobbied the Canadian and U.S. governments to pass legislation restricting acid-causing emissions.
Toxic Chemicals and the Great Lakes
In 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, accidentally released 30 tons of highly toxic gases causing over 16,000 deaths. In 1985, a toxic chemical ‘blob’ formed in the St. Clair River after Dow Chemical spilled 11,000 litres of perchloroethylene. Such high-profile disasters led to the enactment of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in 1988, strongly advocated for by Pollution Probe and other organizations. In 1986 we published our first Great Lakes Primer, to inform the public on Great Lakes issues. In 1987 the GLWQA was revised, with new commitments to reduce toxic pollutants, among other changes.
Lead in Gasoline
Exposure to high amounts of lead can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, damage the brain and kidneys, and may cause reproductive effects. Large doses of some lead compounds have caused cancer in lab animals. In 1988, along with other environmental and health organizations, we called for the removal of lead from gasoline, and by 1989 the federal government had put regulations in place.
In 1980, we moved our office to Ecology House in Toronto. There was a solar greenhouse, and a grey-water system that directed wastewater from sinks and showers to a hydroponic greenhouse designed to provide enough vegetables for family of four. The caulking, weather stripping, vapor barriers, triple glazing, Trombe wall and insulation reduced heating costs by more than 85%. Recycling and composting reduced waste materials by more than half. Ecology House was educational, to show that energy-efficient houses were possible and essential to our future. More than 10,000 people visited in the first year.
Our work in the 1970s marked the beginning of concerted action on acid rain. In July 1985, 21 countries, including Canada, signed the Helsinki Protocol calling for an urgent 30% reduction of SO₂ emissions from 1980 levels, at the latest by 1993. The Canadian Acid Rain Control Program was introduced in the same year. Its objective was to reduce SO₂ emissions in eastern Canada by 50% from the 1980 level of 4.6 million tonnes.
Green Consumers and Businesses
In 1989, we published The Canadian Green Consumer Guide, a handbook on environment-friendly choices people could make in everyday life and ways they could save money while protecting the Earth. Over 200,000 guides were sold. In 1990, we released the Canadian Junior Green Guide, with fun and practical activities aimed at children 8-12 years old. In 1993 we expanded on our 1982 publication Profit from Pollution Prevention: A Guide to Industrial Waste Reduction and Recycling with four Green Business Guides on how to “green” offices and workplaces.
In the 1990s, we published several reports and ran a number of conferences that highlighted the serious problems that air pollution (i.e., smog) posed for human health. We also launched our first Clean Air Commute in 1993, a media campaign to inform Canadians about the harmful effects of vehicle emissions and to show ways in which they could help reduce it. The Campaign became an annual event over the next 15 years. In the late 1990s we explored the use of emissions trading as a way to reduce the cost of air pollution controls for nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (i.e., NOx and VOCs).
In 1996 we published Mercury in Ontario: An Inventory of Sources, Uses and Releases. This was the first inventory of mercury done for the province. We examined existing laws and regulations, as well as pollution prevention and reduction strategies. Then, we made a major commitment to reducing and eliminating mercury use in industries and products. This would be the beginning of two decades of action on the issue.
In 1998 we became concerned at the state of Ontario’s drinking water and the pollution of source waters. We partnered with York University and hosted a major conference on The Water We Drink: Examining the Quality of Ontario’s Water. Our report from the conference highlighted the urgent need for source water protection, as well as drinking water legislation and provincial standards. No action was taken on our recommendations and, in May 2000, Walkerton, Ontario, experienced the worst-ever disaster involving drinking water in Canada. Seven people died due to bacterial contamination, and 2,300 became ill.
Children’s Health and the Environment
In 2001 we were a founding member of The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE), an affiliation of expert and influential groups aiming to make children’s environmental health issues a priority for decision-makers and to promote children’s environmental health amongst caregivers and the public. In 2005, CPCHE released a comprehensive Primer on Child Health and the Environment. CPCHE is still active today and Pollution Probe remains a member.
Nickel Smelter Emissions and Acid Rain
In 2003 we published Sulphur Dioxide and Toxic Metal Emissions from Smelters in Ontario to demonstrate that proven technology existed which could be used to make significant reductions in SO₂ emissions from the nickel smelting and refining industry in the Sudbury area in order to further protect Ontario’s lakes from acidification. In 2004 Ontario committed to reducing smelter emissions by an additional 75%. In 2006 we published an updated Acid Rain Primer with a more in-depth description of the science of acid rain and the policy and regulatory history of this issue.
Vehicle Fuel Efficiency, Low-Carbon Fuel and Electric Vehicles
In this decade, along with partners like the Canadian Automobile Association, we published a series of reports and surveys on fuel efficiency, vehicle emissions and the environment, efficient low-emissions vehicles and low-carbon fuel standards. We also carried out a nationwide survey project to assess consumer awareness and identify the challenges towards consumer adoption of EV technologies in Canada. All of this work, and much more, was done in support of the federal government’s new regulations, published in 2010, that were the first to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the automotive sector.
Recognizing the urgent need for effective climate mitigation policies, we released reports on climate change adaptation and the production and use of bio-fuels in place of fossil fuels, as well as the Primer on Climate Change and Human Health and other guides to climate change for businesses. We worked with the Ontario Energy Board promoting profitability of energy conservation. In 2007 we became a member of the Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition to put pressure on the federal government to deploy green power alternatives, which it did with its ecoEnergy Renewable Power Program.
Energy Innovation and Energy Literacy
Pollution Probe continued to research and advocate for clean energy solutions, including working on one of the first renewable energy strategies for Canada, assessing the future of natural gas in Canada, and considering the options for maintaining a low-emissions energy system in the aftermath of Pickering nuclear station’s retirement.
Following on from a decade of sustained action on reducing air pollution from the transportation sector, Pollution Probe continued to focus on low-carbon fuels and addressing barriers to deployment of electric vehicles (EVs). In 2010, we partnered with Toronto Hydro and Mercedes-Benz to launch the first consumer electric vehicle pilot project in Canada. In 2013, we partnered with five power utilities to launch the Electric Mobility Adoption and Prediction (EMAP) project and held a workshop on low-carbon fuel standards. Additionally, our work explored low-carbon mobility actions and EV deployment strategies for municipalities across Canada.
Pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes
Protecting the Great Lakes has been a key element of our work since the 1970s, and we have focused on addressing issues such as eutrophication and toxic chemicals. An emerging concern in this decade was pharmaceuticals as contaminants, with concerns related to adverse impacts on aquatic ecosystems and on human health. We conducted studies to identify knowledge gaps, define further actions needed to better understand, manage and prevent pharmaceutical pollution in the Great Lakes, and evaluate the potential of citizen science as a tool to help meet these priorities.
Plastics in the Environment
Ontario’s pioneering 1986 Blue Box Recycling initiative was the result of many years of research, advocacy and activism, in which Pollution Probe played a major role, helping develop the very concept of broad-scale recycling. In recent years we have shifted focus to advocating for producer responsibility and a transition to a circular economy, as well as focusing on the issue of plastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems like the Great Lakes. In 2018, we co-hosted the Great Lakes Plastics Forum to help ensure that freshwater plastic pollution is just as high a priority as marine plastics.
Pollution Probe is working on reducing the barriers slowing us down from moving to a net-zero energy system. To promote the innovation we need, Pollution Probe and QUEST Canada's Innovation Sandboxes project aims to collaboratively create frameworks that will allow for innovation in all levels of provincial and territorial energy systems across Canada. Pollution Probe is also working with communities to help them implement clean energy solutions and, through our Energy Ambassadors program, engaging with all to help them understand the transition coming
Electric Vehicles and Low-Carbon Action
Pollution Probe is continuing its work on removing barriers and increasing deployment of EVs in Canada. In 2020, we published the extensive Guide to EV Charging in Multi-Unit Residential Buildings followed by studies on low-carbon mobility actions in Canadian municipalities. Most recently, Pollution Probe launched the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Support Program (ZEVIP) to support the Government of Canada's commitment to having Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) comprise 50% of new passenger vehicle sales by 2030, and 100% by 2035.
Plastics in the Environment
The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup, spearheaded by Pollution Probe and the Council of the Great Lakes Region, is the largest initiative of its kind in the world, using innovative technology to capture and remove plastics and other litter from sites across the Great Lakes. Through research, outreach and education, the initiative is gathering data on litter entering aquatic ecosystems and identifying how government, industry, and consumers can work together to reduce, reuse and recycle material waste.