Ontario’s Lax Air Polluton Rules Challenged

Standards for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) are “outdated “ and pose “particularly serious health risks for people living in close proximity to major emitters of NO2 – people with asthma, children, and the elderly.”

“Ontario’s outdated NO2 standard and absence of a legally binding PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) standard disproportionately impact communities located near clusters of heavy industry.”

News from Citizens At City Hall (CATCH), a Hamilton-based citizens watchdog group

Posted May 23rd, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Ontario officials are being pushed to sharply improve lax air pollution standards that have long been recognized as inadequate for the protection of human health.

Two women from Hamilton and Sarnia are using the Environmental Bill of Rights to try to get provincial regulations to match ones already recognized as necessary at the federal level.

Environment Hamilton executive director Lynda Lukasik and Aamjiwnaang First Nation activist Ada Lockridge have filed an “Application for Review” of Ontario’s air quality rules on Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Hamilton and Sarnia (where the Aamjiwnaang First Nation is located) have some of the highest air pollution levels in Ontario and both contaminants have major health impacts.

As early as 1997, Hamilton researchers identified NO2 and tiny dust particles as “criteria pollutants” likely responsible for deaths and hospitalizations in the city. Particulate matter at that time was grouped as 10 microns or smaller (PM10) that could become lodged in human lungs and often transports toxic chemicals.

By 2003 “the health effects impacts of particulate exposure [were] recognized as being associated primarily with exposure to fine particulate (PM2.5)”. A Clean Air Hamilton health assessment in that year also concluded that NO2 pollution “alone is responsible for about one-third of all non-traumatic deaths and hospital admissions due to air pollution” in the city.

Over the last half decade recommended standards to protect against health effects have been developed by the federal government. These Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS) were set in 2013 for PM2.5 and late last year for NO2 but so far neither has been legislated in Ontario.

Lukasik and Lockridge want that changed.

They point out that the province’s currently permitted one-hour average for NO2 “is three times greater than the CAAQS” and that an annual standard has not been set at all. They contend that these are outdated standards which pose “particularly serious health risks for people living in close proximity to major emitters of NO2 people with asthma, children, and the elderly.”

With regards to PM2.5, the application for review notes that it’s “the pollutant associated with the most robust evidence of health effects, including premature death and adverse cardiovascular and respiratory effects” and particularly puts at risk children and the elderly.

Lukasik and Lockridge note that Public Health Ontario has attributed over 500 cancer cases a year to PM2.5 and that “recent studies conducted in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union and the United States have found that there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5.” Their application for review of the provincial rules emphasizes the pollution problems facing the communities in which the two women live.

“Ontario’s outdated NO2 standard and absence of a legally binding PM2.5 standard disproportionately impact communities located near clusters of heavy industry,” they argue, “such as communities near Sarnia’s Chemical Valley and neighbourhoods adjacent to Hamilton’s industrial core.”

There are over 60 chemical factories in Sarnia, most surrounding or close to the Aamjiwnaang, and their pollution is blamed for major health problems including a grossly skewed gender ratio in newborns with twice as many girls as boys. A survey a decade ago found that forty percent of band members required an inhaler.

The health effect of pollution from Hamilton’s steel mills is underlined by dramatic improvements in Pittsburg after a coke plant shutdown. Emergency room visits for asthma and COPD dropped by over a third and those for heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems fell by more than a quarter. 

Smog days in Hamilton have declined sharply since the closure of Ontario’s coal-fired electricity plants including Nanticoke as well as shut-downs of some facilities in the Ohio Valley. Air pollution levels briefly moved into the high risk category in the city last week.

Lukasik and Lockridge’s submission went in on May 8 with the assistance of EcoJustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity. First stop was to Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner who oversees the Environmental Bill of Rights and tracks government responses. From there it is forwarded to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change which has two months to decide to do if it will carry out a review.

CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org. You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/?p=subscribe .

Sharing links are available on the hamiltoncatch.org .

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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