Enforcement of pollution control laws has developed out of urgent necessity rather than by planned evolution, with the result that it varies widely across the North American continent. Thus, a company on the Ohio River has come under fire much sooner than one in Brooklyn. A new plant was required to install waste treatment before it could open its doors, but an established company was allowed to go on polluting. With increased rapidity this is now changing. Established control authorities are increasing their activities and new ones are coming into being. In the United States, the passing of the Federal Water Control Act in 1965 and the Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966 brought into being a unifying force. A similar act will come into force in Canada in 1970.
These acts establish minimum standards for interstate and provincial water courses and provide for cooperation among the lower levels of government, to bring standards to a uniform level. Now, slowly, a pattern of common approach is developing over the entire continent. Enforcement of laws concerning waterways is generally in the hands of the states and provinces, with enforcement of effluents discharged to sanitary sewers under control of the receiving municipality.
All of the enforcing agencies attempt to work by a combination of pressure, persuasion, and education. Court action is used as a last resort. This is partly a matter of economics, since court actions are expensive and time consuming. It does give industry a chance to exploit the situation and places an added burden on the industries acting responsibly. More individual companies take advantage of this opportunity to at least postpone waste treatment than the authorities realize.
Techniques of control
A clear pattern is discernible here. The longer the need has existed, the longer the existence of control bodies, the greater the sophistication of control. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, which originated in the early fifties, has constant metering at thirteen locations feeding information into a central recording and scanning system in Cincinnati. In Birmingham, England, where there is one of the greatest densities of plating industry in the world, detailed testing is performed on effluents every two weeks with surprise visits thrown in. The State of Michigan not only monitors streams for specific impurities but is now measuring the biological status of the streams so that any synergistic effects of a combination of pollutants may be identified. This may occur even though individual impurities are below required levels. They are also now licensing carriers for transporting waste products and establishing dumps that may be used for disposal.
The degree to which these and other techniques are being applied is still restricted by the availability of funds and of competent personnel. There is also, of course, a general tightening of funds to all government agencies and this has a substantial influence on the rate at which enforcement is proceeding.
An increasing influence is coming from various citizen pressure groups. These are more often led by legal-minded rather than practical people and seldom are in a position to recognize an order of priorities. They can make it very difficult for a particular industry that they single out. In Toronto recently one of these groups threatened to get an order of mandamus to force the Ontario Water Resources Commission to take action against a borough of the city for discharging to a stream without proper sewage treatment. They are getting response.
Politics still play an important part, especially at the municipal level. It is difficult to conceive that a local authority would shut down the town's major industry. In most instances, now, the higher authority may step in but many companies have taken advantage of this situation to delay installation of waste treatment.
Industry’s point of view