Styrofoam fragments snowing onto residential properties is indicative of a construction practice that’s “just not acceptable anymore,” Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West said.
“That’s just the way it was, but the world has moved on,” he told Sudbury.com, adding that although he has sympathy for the contractor, who has done nothing wrong by the letter of the law, regulations need to change to prevent littering such as this from continuing to take place.
“Even though there isn’t anything legally wrong with what he’s doing, I think that ethically, things have to change,” West said, citing the federal government’s July 2019 banning of microbeads in toiletries as one of many examples of changing times.
Another example are the various other environmental regulations which led to Sudbury’s superstack being deemed redundant.
Last month, area residents began complaining about polystyrene foam (best known by its brand name of Styrofoam) fragments blowing onto their properties from the site of a six-storey Bawa Hospitality Group building currently under construction.
Construction crews had been installing the foam on the building’s exterior and shaving it down (“rasped level”) to size, sending fragments “snowing” onto neighbouring properties.
After Bawa Hospitality Group owner Danny Bawa declined to answer Sudbury.com’s questions about the complaints, FPC Constructors Inc. site manager Vincent Marando reached out to share the contractor’s side of the story.
“Until we’re told we have to do something different, what are we supposed to do?” Marando told Sudbury.com at the time.
“If you’re running your business, and you’re doing everything according to the law, are you going to incur costs that go above and beyond?”
As such, he said crews would continue doing what they have been doing, add some more fencing and clean up affected properties after the fact.
The city noted that municipal legislation didn’t cover the situation, but they later ordered the contractor to clean out two catch basins and install a filter on them to prevent additional material from entering them.
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has also been in contact with area residents and the contractor, but hasn’t ordered any changes, noting the contractor has provided a site cleanup plan.
Indeed, crews with vacuums have been seen visiting affected properties to clean up Styrofoam fragments, but residents have reported, and Sudbury.com witnessed, that they have not been successful at picking up all of the non-biodegradable material.
A ministry spokesperson denied Sudbury.com’s interview requests. Instead, they responded with a written statement which failed to answer all of the questions posed.
Included in the slate of questions they declined to answer in a meaningful way was:
- Why aren't contractors like this held to the same standard as the general public? (Section 86 of the Environmental Protection Act prohibits littering, and fines guilty parties “not more than $1,000 on a first conviction and not more than $2,000 on each subsequent conviction”)
- Given the nature of Styrofoam (tiny beads), it’s clear (cleanup crews) are not going to catch it all. What is the province’s measure of success?
- Why doesn’t the province mandate the contractor do more to prevent the spread of Styrofoam fragments to begin with?
The piece of provincial legislation dealing with situations such as this is Section 14 of the Environmental Protection Act, which reads:
“Subject to subsection (2) but despite any other provision of this Act or the regulations, a person shall not discharge a contaminant or cause or permit the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment, if the discharge causes or may cause an adverse effect.”
“In some site-specific cases, for instance when the incident is deemed to be lower risk without suspected impacts to human health or the environment, the ministry may refer the matter to municipalities for follow-up under any applicable by-laws,” according to the ministry’s written statement.
This appears to have been the case in Sudbury, where a city spokesperson said municipal bylaws have not applied.
“In the specific case of the construction activities at the apartment building at 400 Second Avenue, the property owner is responsible for any off-site impacts,” according to the province. “The ministry will continue to follow up with the property owner if off-site impacts continue.”
West said he is meeting with NDP Environment, Conservation and Parks critic Sandy Shaw this week to discuss the matter, and said regulating the use of Styrofoam products “just makes sense.”
“I can see the contractor’s frustration, because it’s how he’s always done it,” West said. “When someone complains, he’s like, ‘I’ve been doing this for my whole career, what’s the big deal?’”
Taking additional measures to prevent the spread of Styrofoam fragments, such as enclosing the work area, would carry a cost, so West said levelling the playing field so all contractors are made to undertake the same practices would ensure compliance.
“It’s very hard to do when you’re competing with everybody else,” he said. “That’s why you need legislation to say, ‘Here are the limits, here are the controls you need to have.’”
An area resident reached out to Sudbury.com this week to report seeing Styrofoam “snowing” onto the neighbourhood again on Monday, with fragments blowing south. They’d also contacted the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and Public Health Sudbury & Districts.
Marando, for his part, has taken to social media to lash out against Sudbury.com’s reporting (“a hack piece of writing by a not too good a reporter”), area residents (he said they’ve been dumping yard trimmings and encroaching on the developer’s property), and various people who have criticized his company’s practices (“trolls”).
Other news outlets, including CTV and CBC, have joined Sudbury.com in writing about this issue. CBC’s reporting cited University of Toronto's School of the Environment professor Miriam Diamond, who expressed health and environmental concerns with the Styrofoam product.
The Styrofoam issue appears to be widespread, with the CBC reporting on similar cases in Toronto, and residents in other areas of Greater Sudbury reporting to Sudbury.com their discovery of fragments on their properties. The Surfrider Foundation, which cleans up ocean beaches across the United States, reports that Styrofoam is one of the main things they pick up.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.