Ontario’s City of Hamilton is taking action on an annual statistic that’s haunting the health of its urban industrial areas.
According to Clean Air Hamilton, about 186 people die each year from air pollution in the country’s steelmaking capital.
Since the Ontario government has yet to step in and specifically regulate airborne fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), so more municipalities are working to create bylaws to protect human health from industrial air pollution, despite the province’s position that it already has the problem covered.
PM 2.5 is sulphate or nitrate particles that exist in the air, typically from industry, traffic and construction. The 2.5 refers to the size of the tiny particles in micrometers.
“This is the stuff that gets down and stuck deep in your lungs,” Environment Hamilton Director, Lynda Lukasik, told EcoLog News.
On August 12, 2013, Hamilton city councillors voted in favour of researching the development of a bylaw to restrict the levels of PM 2.5 that can be emitted by local industry. City staff will return to council with a report about how the bylaw could be implemented.
The bylaw proposal mirrors that of Oakville, another Ontario city known for its industrial roots, particularly in the automotive sector.
Hamilton’s bylaw department, Lukasik and Brian McHattie, the city councillor who introduced the draft bylaw, visited Oakville in summer 2013 to learn more about that municipality’s Protection Air Quality By-law 2010-035, such as how it was implemented, and how it’s enforced.
According to Clean Air Hamilton’s 2012 Air Quality Progress Report, air pollutants contribute to about 186 premature deaths, 395 respiratory hospital admissions and 322 cardiovascular hospital admissions each year in Hamilton, where PM 2.5 data is collected at three Air Quality Index monitoring stations.
In 2012, there were nearly 20 smog days in Hamilton compared to four in 2009, eight in 2010 and two in 2011, the report found.
A 2009 study by Clean Air Hamilton compared the city’s PM 2.5 levels to other Canadian cities. Hamilton registered the fifth highest annual mean PM 2.5 reading, with Windsor, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal registering higher readings.
But there are positive stats from the report, too. For instance, city deaths caused by air pollution have dropped 19 per cent since 2003, and greenhouse gas emissions in Hamilton dropped 14.5 per cent between 2006 and 2010.
In its own fight to regulate PM 2.5 in April 2010, Oakville initially used the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights Registry to request that the province develop a standard to protect human health against PM 2.5.
The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) responded in a May 22, 2012 letter, after an extensive review of the PM 2.5 issue. The ministry “concluded that there is no need to take further action.”
The province’s review explored what was, at the time, a new Toxic Reduction Strategy, and the standards within the regulation Air Pollution — local Air Quality (O. Reg. 419/05).
The MOE wrote that the province’s Air Quality Management System and two specific regulations under the Environmental Protection Act adequately cover protection against PM 2.5. The regulations are Industry Emissions Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur Dioxides (O. Reg. 194/05) and Emissions Trading (O. Reg. 397/01).
The MOE also highlighted its commitment to building sustainable and renewable energy as a way that it is working to reduce PM 2.5 levels.
Finally, the MOE noted that Ontario has been meeting the Canada-Wide Standard developed in 2000 by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. The standard allows for a PM 2.5 level 30 micrograms per cubic metre, averaged over 24 hours.
After Oakville introduced its PM 2.5 bylaw, it caused ripples among industry. TransCanada, which had been planning to build a generating station in the Greater Toronto Area city, and Ford Motor Company of Canada Limited, both threatened to appeal the bylaw at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
At the time, Oakville Mayor Rob Burton — still in office — welcomed the challenge and responded by saying that he was “committed to protecting the health of our residents and we will continue to move forward […].”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some one million people die each year from chronic obstructive respiratory disease due to air pollution.
This news item first appeared in EcoLog News. To learn how to subscribe, visit www.ecolog.com