1.3 Steps to environmental investigation

Environmental investigations can be complicated, but following these steps will make the process easier.

Step 1: Identify pollution source (see sections 2.0 and 3.0).

Step 2: Obtain documents (see section 4.0).

• Internal and external correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings, and other notes held in the public domain

• Remedial Action Plan (RAP) reports

• Certificates of Approval

• Monitoring data released by the company, regulatory agencies, or other sources

• MISA data (Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement)

• NPRI data (National Pollutant Release Inventory)

• Environment Registry information

• Inspection results and non-compliance reports

• Certificates of Incorporation

• Previous studies (check the public, university, or government agency libraries)

• Company’s annual reports and other public documents

(Not all of these documents will be needed in the beginning or in every case. For help on how to access government-held information and records using the Access to Information Act, see Section 4.1.)

Step 3: Determine whether something has been or is being done about the problem.

• Contact local environmental groups (see Sections 3.1 and 3.2).

• Check the Environmental Registry under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (see section 4.7).

• Contact a lawyer (preferably a public interest lawyer or someone willing to work pro bono).

Step 4: Identify potential contaminants.

• From documents you’ve obtained, and with the information in section 2.0, identify the contaminants that may be present at the site.

• Contact the Canadian Association for Environmental Analytical Laboratories for a list of accredited laboratories in your area (see Appendix H).

• Contact the laboratories to confirm the tests they perform and their prices and to obtain instructions on how to take and handle samples.

• Decide where you will send your samples.

Step 5: Go on field and sampling trips (see section 5.0).

• Make a preliminary visit to the site.

• Take notes on each visit.

• Select sites for sampling if appropriate.

• Take samples using appropriate containers and safety equipment.

• Implement a chain of custody for the samples.

• Videotape and photograph sites.

Step 6: Analyze and test samples (see section 5.6).

• Have samples analyzed and/or tested for toxicity.

• Compare the results with other information and guidelines (see section 4.0 and Appendix D).

• Approach experts with the information gathered and ask their opinions.

Step 7: Make a violation table.

• By creating a violation table (see Appendix E for an example), you and your lawyer can judge whether an offence has been committed. Consider potential legal defences that may be available to the polluter (e.g., due diligence) and determine whether further investigation may be necessary before proceeding with legal action.

Step 8: Contact the appropriate regulatory agency and make a formal complaint (see section 7.0).

• Determine which agency oversees the type of environmental offence that has occurred.

• Bring your information to the agency. This may be the final step for some of you.

• Another option in Ontario is to apply for an investigation through the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario under the Environmental Bill of Rights (see section 7.1).

• Whether you stop here or pursue the matter further through legal means, you may want to make the evidence you have gathered public through the media (see section 8.0).

Step 9: Proceed with legal action (see section 9.0).