Not satisfied with air quality
The Ipsos Reid, survey reported in the Red Deer Advocate on Friday, Sept. 13, and entitled Satisfaction runs high, again omitted asking residents whether they are satisfied about air quality in Red Deer.
Unfortunately, air quality is deteriorating, following the trend across Canada and the U.S. Air quality monitoring in Red Deer is too basic to alert residents to the true magnitude of the current threat to our health as the province relies on the Air Quality Health Index, which has little to do with health as the most dangerous pollutants are omitted from the index. The omission of carcinogens is particularly troubling as this is a standard procedure, but not in Red Deer or any urban centres in Alberta.
We are left with borrowing other countries’ research on the assumption that cities have similar sources of air pollution.
The British have identified troubling levels of carcinogenic smoke along truck routes in London as some drivers have removed the filters from the exhausts. As carcinogens are not monitored in Red Deer, we can only imagine the cancer risk to residents along truck routes in a province where diesels are not required to have filters. A related concern is the number of commercial trucks that have no mufflers. This may be a trend and will add to the current unholy racket from motorcycles and modified automobiles. The level of noise from vehicles, in general, in Red Deer is not just a nuisance but is high enough to be a health hazard.
Unfortunately, several surveys have shown that residents are unaware of the hazards to their health as there is no effective air quality monitoring and we do not have a sixth sense that alerts us to the presence of toxic or carcinogenic chemicals. We are not even made aware of trends in air pollution as the source of the pollutants is not identified. At the very least, the city needs to use dibenzothiophene to identify the diesel smoke component of pollution and levoglucosan as the marker for wood smoke.
Monitoring does show that automobiles are a significant source of air pollution in Red Deer as we have not enjoyed the full benefits of the emission reduction features of the newer vehicles because so many have had the catalytic converters removed — often to make them louder. As a result, the level of pollution in Red Deer from automobiles is double the level it would be if the emission systems were working.
A survey of cities in North America shows deteriorating air quality as a result of urban wood burning. This is hardly surprising as having a wood burning neighbour is like having two 18-wheeler diesel trucks running next to your home. From Alaska to Tasmania, as soon as home heating costs increase, residents flock to wood burning whether or not wood is any cheaper than natural gas or fuel oil and with no regard for the impact on neighbours’ health. This will happen in Red Deer unless we elect a mayor and council that cares for the city environment.
To their credit, Montreal has banned the further installation of wood burning appliances, noting that the emissions from one wood fire pollutes as much as several hundred automobiles. Residents have until 2020 to convert their appliances to natural gas. Wood smoke takes a terrible toll on human health, as confirmed be the reams of research and the tragic emails I receive.
Again, having to borrow data from the more environmentally-conscious countries: the cost to the health-care system, to treat smoke related diseases, is estimated at $15,000 per wood stove per annum. The smoke and fumes from wood-burning fireplaces, chimneys and fire pits all take their toll on neighbours’ heath but the impact depends on how often they are used so the health impact is more difficult to calculate, but there is no safe exposure to wood smoke.
The city’s Environmental Master Plan does not include any effective clean air initiatives or any effective air quality monitoring. Hopefully, a new council will develop a clean air strategy and ask the province to address truck and automobile emissions. The province is unlikely to act while municipal politicians show so little support for the concept of a healthy urban environment.
Unfortunately, the province has no plans to restrict wood burning and has even waived all air quality standards if wood burning is the source of pollutants, so even if monitoring identifies a wood smoke problem, they will do nothing. It is up to local councils to head off the threat — all without any effective monitoring or basic information that would keep councils and the public informed of the health implications of across-the-board neglect of urban air quality.
It is a very unusual and troubling situation and there is a need to elect a mayor and councilors who believe that Red Deer should be a healthy and wholesome place in which to live.
Canadian Clean Air Alliance