Spill Reporting Procedures

University of Toronto – Environmental Protection Procedure

Spills into the Environment – Reporting to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment & Energy


1. Introduction

The Ontario Environmental Protection Act (EPA) [Part X, section 92] defines and imposes specific duties on anyone causing a spill or having control of a spilled pollutant into the natural environment. One of these duties is to report spills into the natural environment to the Ontario Ministry of Environment. The following procedure outlines the requirements for reporting these spills.

2. Duty to Notify

“Every person having control of a pollutant that is spilled and every person who spills or causes or permits a spill of a pollutant that causes or is likely to cause and adverse effect shall forthwith notify the Ministry” [EPA, Section 92(1)]

There are no minimum reportable quantities. When a spill occurs, the EPA defines the duty to report as: “…immediately when the person knows or ought to know that the pollutant is spilled AND is causing or is likely to cause an adverse effect” [EPA, Section 92(2)] Specific legal definitions under the Act are:

  • Pollutant: means a contaminant other than heat, sound, vibration or radiation and includes any substance [solid, liquid and/or gas] from which a pollutant is derived.
  • Spill: means a discharge into the natural environment from or out of a structure, vehicle or other container and that is abnormal in quality or quantity in light of all circumstances of the discharge.
  • Adverse Effect: the definition of adverse effect is quite broad and means one or more of:
    1. impairment of the quality of the natural environment for any use that can be made of it,
    2. injury or damage to property or to plant or animal life,
    3. harm or material discomfort to any person,
    4. an adverse effect on the health of any person,
    5. impairment of the safety of any person,
    6. rendering any property or plant or animal life unfit for human use,
    7. loss of enjoyment of normal use of property, or
    8. interference with the normal conduct of business.
  • Natural Environment: means the air, land and water or any combination or part thereof.

In accordance with the EPA, liability does not depend upon fault or negligence, but only upon the fact that the spill occurred.

3. When to Notify – When Duty is Effective:

The Ministry of Environment must be notified when a solid, liquid and/or gaseous material has been released to the outside environment (i.e. outside of a building) and causes or has the potential to cause an adverse effect.

The Ministry of Environment considers that where there is the possibility of outside contamination, the incident is reportable.

Discharges of hazardous agents to the outside environment are not part of the normal University operation. The normal operation of a fume hood does not produce an adverse effect, and discharges of chemicals into drains are prohibited by University policy.

Therefore a spill of a chemical/pollutant is reportable to the Ministry of the Environment for:

  1. Spills occurring outside of a building, or
  2. Spill occurring inside a building that leak outside.

Reporting Exemptions

Under the EPA, Regulation 360 – Spills Regulation, Part V of the regulation outlines exemptions for the purposes of notification [section 92 of the Act] of spills to the Ministry. There are 5 classes of exemptions. For University operations, the following could apply:

a) Fuel leaks from vehicles

Class III spills [spills of liquid from the fuel or other systems of vehicles] of less than 100 litres are exempt from reporting to the Ministry if the spill does not enter the sewer system and notification requirements under the Highway Traffic Act have been complied.

b) Small fires

Class V – spills of pollutants from fires, where the pollutants are products of combustion of materials normally found in residential properties of 10 or fewer households are completely exempt from the Part X (spills) of the Act

Research and/or teaching area containing chemicals, radioactive materials or biological agents as laboratories or storage facilities that become involved in a fire with smoke escaping into the hallways, windows or out of doorways to the outside would likely be a reportable event to the Ministry.

In such instances, it is most likely that the Fire Department will be called and that they will report the incident to the Ministry of Environment.

Areas such as residences, lecture rooms, office areas would likely fall under the above exemption.


4. Role of the Ministry of Environment

Once a report has been received, the Ministry will likely investigate and determine the extent of environmental damage and the effectiveness of the cleanup. It is very likely that all reports will be documented by the Ministry. The Ministry will decide whether to transfer the investigation to its Investigation and Enforcement Branch for possible prosecution.


5. How to Notify the Ministry of Environment

The Ministry has established a 24-hour emergency telephone to handle reports of spills in the environment: 1.800.268.6060. As outlined in Section 6 below, Departments should not normally take it upon themselves to notify the Ministry of Environment.


6. Departmental Responsibilities in the Event of a Spill

Departments should not take it upon themselves to notify the Ministry of the Environment. Reporting will be done by the Manager, Hazardous Waste or designate in the Office of Environmental Health & Safety (416.978.7000) or by the Campus Police according to the established campus emergency procedures.

In some cases, the Fire Department may notify the Ministry of the Environment when chemicals are involved in a fire. It is important that in this event, the Manager, Hazardous Waste be notified immediately.

Departments should have pre-established emergency procedures for cleanup and reporting of chemical spills and have the appropriate protective clothing and spill cleanup kits readily available.

In the event of a spill, the Department should do the following:

  1. Assess the situation. Individuals should not put themselves or others at risk when performing a spill cleanup.
  2. Stop the spill, contain it, and initiate steps to ameliorate any effect on the environment.
  3. Call the University’s Environmental Protection Services (Hazardous Materials) at 416.978.7000 for spills meeting any of the following criteria:
  • large spills (e.g. several litres),
  • spills involving highly toxic materials,
  • spills involving quantities of flammable materials which cannot be safely handled,
  • spills occurring outside a building,
  • spills inside a building in which material (gaseous, solid or liquid) is leaking or may leak outside,
  • fires involving chemicals,
  • any other spill which the individual does not feel capable of handling safely.

After hours call Campus Police at 416.978.2222 (St. George Campus). For the Mississauga Campus call 905.828.5200, and for the Scarborough Campus call 416.287.7333. The Campus Police will notify the appropriate individuals according to the established emergency procedures.

  1. Isolate the area until either the spill has been cleaned up locally, or until the emergency personnel arrive.
  2. Fill out an Accident/Incident Report form.