We must do more to combat pollution closer to home

Cameron Kennedy’s article, Power switch needed now, in the Red Deer Advocate, Friday, April 19, outlines the Pembina Institute’s concerns that the emissions from the province’s six coal-fired power plants may be killing us.

Cameron Kennedy’s article, Power switch needed now, in the Red Deer Advocate, Friday, April 19, outlines the Pembina Institute’s concerns that the emissions from the province’s six coal-fired power plants may be killing us.

This may be true but on reading the article, the words of a spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came to mind. He notes that: “The greatest threat to your family’s health and lives, with regard to air pollution, does not lie in the emissions from a distant coal-fired power plant, oil refinery or industry but in the sources closest to your home. These sources are the fumes from vehicles driving by and the smoke from your neighbour’s wood burning stove, fireplace or fire pit.”

With regard to vehicle emissions, the health impact will be significant as Red Deer and Alberta’s cities in general, have not supported the emission testing of older vehicles and as a result vehicle pollution levels are double the level they would be if all vehicles had fully functioning emission systems.

Burning coal or wood in a residential area exposes neighbours to levels of pollutants in excess of those resulting from coal burning power plants and other industrial sources and pollution-related illnesses and deaths are well documented. This is hardly surprising as one wood or coal fire pollutes as much as dozens or even hundreds of automobiles. Unfortunately, the dangerous nature of residential wood and coal smoke has been kept from the public and is omitted from the school curriculum.

Another source of pollution, not just close to your home but inside your home, is the family’s wood- or coal-burning stove or fireplace, as they inevitably leak traces of pollutants into a home. Apart from the smoke and carcinogens, close-range exposure to wood smoke means exposure to free radicals, which have wide ranging health implications.

The health implications are so serious that it has been recognized for centuries that having a wood- or coal-burning appliance in your home means risking developing the diseases that today we associate with cigarette smoking.

Air pollution monitoring in Alberta is unfortunately very basic and standard procedures such as monitoring for chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects are omitted.

Even with these limitations, monitoring is now identifying problems in Red Deer, which is hardly surprising as the city has not even taken the most basic steps to protect residents from air pollution.

As the activities of residents, rather than coal-burning power plants or industrial activities, are the main sources of pollution, residents, by their actions, have the ability to make this city a healthy and wholesome place in which to live.

Action is needed as the trend, not only in Red Deer but from coast to coast, is for ever-increasingly polluted cities.

Essential first steps are to elect city councillors who support clean air initiatives and school trustees who will support including research-based material, relating to air pollution, in the school curriculum to replace the current ineffective “green” approach.

Alan Smith

Alberta Director

Canadian Clean Air Alliance

Red Deer