Truth About Sewage Being Flushed Away

Billions of litres escape treatment through lax monitoring and aging infrastructure

TORONTO – Today Ecojustice released Flushing Out the Truth: Sewage Dumping in Ontario —an investigative report examining the tens of billions of litres of untreated sewage being allowed to enter Ontario waterways, including the Great Lakes, because of outdated sewage infrastructure and poor oversight by the Ontario Provincial Government.

The report highlights Ministry of the Environment (MOE) figures that show the total volume of sewage dumped from municipal treatment plant bypasses was approximately 18 billion litres in 2006 and 15 billion litres in 2007. It also draws attention to massive quantities of sewage being released from combined sewer overflows and the incomplete information being collected by the MOE.

“Sewage is the largest source of water pollution in the Great Lakes,” says Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist for Ecojustice, “The fact that the Ontario Government fails to even monitor it correctly demonstrates poor planning and dangerously uninformed decision making.”

In total, 8 municipalities dumped more than 1 billion litres of untreated or undertreated sewage through bypasses during the 2006-2007 period. Niagara Falls released almost 7 billion litres of untreated or undertreated sewage in 2007 alone. Other cities with more than a billion litres of sewage released during 2006-7 include: Hamilton (5 billion); Windsor (4.3 billion); Welland (3.9); Toronto (2.7 billion); Sudbury/Greater Sudbury (2.6 billion); London (1.8 billion); and Leamington (1 billion).

Bypasses occur when sewage is intentionally diverted into waterways to avoid overloading sewage treatment facilities. Combined sewer systems are outdated infrastructure that carries sewage and storm water runoff in a single pipe or two interconnected pipes, frequently causing overflows of untreated sewage into local waterways during wet weather. Eighty nine Ontario communities have combined sewer systems and the total volume of sewage released by them remains unknown.

“Climate change is making storm events and sewage overflows more frequent and more severe,” says Liat Podolsky, Staff Scientist for Ecojustice, “We’re urging the provincial government to make key improvements now that will protect Ontarians and the Great Lakes.”

In 2008, Ecojustice reported on how to reduce combined sewage overflows in Green Cities, Great Lakes. The report urged municipalities to adopt green infrastructure in all aspects of planning and development, and demanded that senior levels of government increase funding and improve all aspects of monitoring, reporting and enforcement. The report is available on the Ecojustice website.


For more information, please visit or contact:

Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533 ext. 27

Liat Podolsky, Staff Scientist, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533 ext. 21

Kori Brus, Communications Director, Ecojustice  (416) 368-7533 ext. 25


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