Health Effects of Air Pollution,
March 5, 2008
Mr. Chairman, and honoured guests,
With your permission
I would like to dedicate my presentation this evening
to the memory
of Dr. Donald Chant.
Dr. Chant was a Canadian scientist
who dedicated his life
to our understanding
of environmental issues.
At various times he was a resident
of both Hastings and Prince Edward Counties.
I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Chant personally
in the last 5 years of his life.
He passed away in December 2007.
I am going to describe to you
Six..... scenarios ....in air quality.
1. You are standing next to someone
who is smoking..... a cigaret.
You......start.... To........ cough.
2. You suffer from asthma...or some other chronic lung disorder.
You dread the arrival of the hot humid days of summer
with their attendant high Smog Index.
Because you know that on those days
unless you spend the day...
indoors, beside the air conditioner
that you will again...
start.... To.... cough
3. You are out for a walk in town one winter evening.
The air is fresh and clean...
until you walk by a house
where someone is burning wood in their fireplace.
There is wood smoke in the air....
You .......start...... to....... cough.
4. You are out riding your bicycle one day
and it is very pleasant
except every time a diesel truck passes you
you inhale a lung full of exhaust
and......You ....start..... to ....cough.
5. You are out sailing in Picton Bay ..in a strong wind.
As you approach the cement plant ..on the western shore
powerful downdrafts ...blow smoke .....almost undiluted
from the smokestack... over the cliff .....down to the Bay.
You inhale a few choking breaths...
And..... you .....start.... to........ cough.
6. You are stuck in your car in traffic in the summer
at the corner of North Front Street, and Bell Blvd.
Your windows are rolled up,
the air conditioning is on,
And ....the air inside the car seems fine....
you ........start...... to ........cough.
When you first think of the subject of Air quality,
you might say to yourself,
Well, it sounds a little dry.............doesn't really affect me...
the air around town ...seems to be pretty good...
so what is the concern?
But the 6 examples that I have just given
are common ones...
that any of us might encounter
And this is the reason that
Air-quality ......and air pollution
has been a very big public health issue in Canada
in the last few years.
Breathing clean air,
like drinking clean water,
is a very fundamental requirement....
for good health.
Now, of course, it needs to be said,
before we go any further
on the subject of air pollution
that the elephant in the room this evening,
is cigaret smoking...which remains by far and away
the leading cause of disease
compared to any other sources of air pollution.
There are said to be
some 4000 chemicals in cigaret smoke,
and, as we now know
none of them.... are good for you,
But the lessons learned
from the cigaret smoking story
are proving to be very useful
in the air pollution story
as the health effects are rather similar.
So this evening I want to focus
on these other sources....of air pollution.
The six examples that I have used
actually illustrate ..the most common sources
of air pollution , which are:
1. automobile exhaust,
2. the burning of wood and coal,
3. the burning of waste,
4. and last, but not least,
emissions from industrial smoke stacks.
And when it comes to
industrial sources specifically
a good example is .....the Cement industry
which is the biggest industry in the world.
In the Great Lakes basin region
there are about 20 cement plants
so the contribution of the cement industry alone
to air pollution in our region.....is significant.
And I'll return to this issue a little later.
Now there are actually only 3 things
that you need to know about
the physics and chemistry of air pollution:
They are :
1. Particulate matter,
2. particulate matter, and .....
3. Particulate matter.
There are other components
to the chemical composition
of polluted air...as well.
Actually, there are about 8 categories altogether....
in the chemical composition of polluted air
but tonight we are going to focus on
because its presence in the air we breathe
has clear implications for human health
which are now well understood.
So what is....this stuff?
Well first of all,
it is not a new subject.
In one of Charles Dickens' novels
Which was written in the setting of
the City of London....in the mid 1800's
Dickens describes a scene in the city
in which he refers to a.. London Particular.
So what is....a London Particular???
Well, in his novel, Bleak House
we get a clue..... in the following lines:
"Smoke, lowering down from the chimney pots,
making a soft black drizzle,
with flakes of soot in it
as big as ...full grown.... snowflakes-
gone into mourning, one might imagine,
for the death of the sun....
Fog in the eyes and throats
of ancient Greenwich pensioners,
wheezing by the firesides of their wards."
(End of Quote)
(There is strong imagery here.)
Well, the coal and wood smoke
that left the chimneys....of 19th century London houses
consisted of particles.... of carbon,
which Dickens describes as being
the size of snowflakes.
These certainly would have
blackened the clothes,
if not the lungs, of the citizens.
So the term "London Particular"
referred to a London fog.
Today we are still burning coal and wood.
But the "particulate matter" issue
is much more complex now
than it was a century ago....
because in our industrial society
we are now producing some.. 80,000 chemicals
and these often end their life cycle
by being disposed of...
by being burned....in a waste incinerator.
So... particulate matter
coming out of industrial smoke stacks now
is a much more complex substance
then mere carbon particles
from wood and coal burning of earlier times.
You can think of modern particulate matter
as tiny blobs
which are made up potentially
of any of thousands of chemicals.
And the particles that we are talking about
are very small...indeed,
for example PM 2.5 refers to particles
that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter....
(one micron being 1/1000 mm)
Very tiny....virtually invisible to the naked eye .
When we breath in these particles,
they are able to get past
the filtration system of our lungs,
which is actually quite efficient,
but which however cannot stop
these very small particles
from finding their way
deep into the small airways... and airspaces
where they wreak havoc,
and cause problems.
So herein lies the problem.
And when Government air quality regulators
attempt to control air quality
they measure the concentrations of these particles.
Different scales are used by different jurisdictions
so it is all a little confusing.
Just for example, and to give you some idea
of what we are talking about
a couple of summers ago, one of the university scientists
took some measurements
at the side of the busy ....Plains Road in Hamilton, Ontario
on a typical smoggy summer day.
They used a smog meter.
When it was held at nose level
they measured an average particle count
in the air....at the roadside
of about 12,000 particles ....of A/P .....per cc.
In other words, 12,000 particles
in a volume of air about the size of a sugar cube.
And, when a diesel powered delivery truck drove by,
the count shot up to 46,000 particles per cc.
If your work it out this means
that a person who is breathing normally
at that location.....for 6 minutes
while out walking quickly ,or jogging,
would breathe in
about 1 billion particles....in 6 min
So this really is a testimony
to the amazing defences
of the human respiratory system
that we are able to breath at all
in such an environment,
which after all is quite a common one.
This leads us to....the subject of Smog.
There has been quite a lot of discussion
about Smog ....in the last few years.
Here in Belleville
we have had the distinction
on a number of occasions, usually during the summer,
of having the highest recorded.... Smog Index
in the whole of the province of Ontario.
The Ontario Medical Association
in June 2005..published its
ICAP study - the Illness Cost of Air Pollution- ICAP
which estimated for each community in the province
the number of .....premature deaths... and illnesses
that are currently .... caused by smog....in Ontario.
According to the OMA study
......in Ontario in 2005
smog caused..... through its immediate effects
6,000 ......premature deaths, ......
and 17,000 hospital admissions.
And then just to confuse the issue,
the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation
just last month.... came out with the same figure,
6000 premature deaths ...due to smog,
but ....for the whole country....
rather than just the province of Ontario.
The health effect of smog on an individual...
is essentially the same as
the health effect of cigaret smoke.
In June 2005 ,Cancer Care Ontario,
our provincial cancer control agency
published a volume
entitled "Environmental Exposures and Cancer".
In that, they noted
that both.... cigaret smoke....and Smog cause
Heart Disease..... and Chronic Lung Disease.
When you think of those
12,000 particles per cc ......in the air at the road side,
...Or 46,000 when that diesel truck drives by
...these are obviously very high counts.
When we breathe in these small particles
they cause Inflammation .....deep inside the lung,
which can cause .....chronic lung disease.
and from there, these particles
are absorbed into ....the blood stream
where they can cause.... Injury
to the blood vessels....and the heart
which can lead to
Hardening of the Arteries....and... Heart attack.
This Cardiovascular effect of smog
was demonstrated....in the Women's Health Study
which was released last year.
One of the people who made us aware of this whole issue.
was the late Dr. David Bates. ....who passed away in 2006.
He was a British trained physician
whose interest in the health effects of air pollution
started in the early 1950's
as he bicycled around London , England,
while he rode back and forth to work
at St Bartholomew's Hospital . (stimulates interest in A/Q)
In December 1952, while Dr. Bates was living there,
a thick Fog descended on London....
for 4 days.
Coal burning was still very common then
and when the coal smoke...mixed together.... with this fog
it became....a thick sulphurous Smog.
And of course London at that time
was a city of cigaret smokers
whose lung and heart health
was therefore ...already compromised.
So during the next 2 months
12 000 people died prematurely
from heart and lung disease,
as a result of this..... killer London fog.
In other words 6 000 people died
in each of those two months...
Anyway , this incident in 1954
sparked Dr. Bates' interest
in the relationship between air pollution ....and lung disease.
He moved to Canada....in 1956
to McGill University in Montreal
where he continued his research.
He had a particular interest in the effect of Ozone,
which is another type of air pollutant.
He moved to British Columbia in 1972.
In the 1980s, he and one of his colleagues
made the connection ....between air pollution ....
and hospital admissions ..in southern Ontario,
which they called "the acid summer haze effect".
The idea being that..
when there was more haze in the air
there were more admissions to hospital.
In 1991, Dr. Bates helped to plan
the Children's Health Study,
which sponsored by the ...University of Southern California,
He worked on this for the next 15 years,
looking at ... lung function in children
who lived close to major highways.
The results were published just last year
by his colleague Dr. Gauderman.
So air pollution affects everyone to some degree
but it victimizes ....4 groups of people in particular.:
2. the elderly
3. people who already have disease of the heart and blood vessels
and 4. people who have chronic lung disease.
With respect to the 4th group,
those people who already have some chronic lung disorder,
such as asthma....or chronic smoker's lung,
we have long been aware that such patients
may get worse due to.... infections
such as virus or bacterial infections.
However it has also not been unusual
to encounter patients
whose chronic lung conditions...have worsened,
even though they apparently have
not.....had any such... recent infection.
These patients have been a puzzle
until more recently...
when it has been recognized
that they may be suffering
from worsening of their lung problems
due to smog conditions.
So, to summarize health effects,
Smog causes..... illness.... and premature death,
from heart disease......and from lung disease.
And what is the practical importance of this?
Well, to put things into perspective,
the European Union
has just recently said
that if a Community... can reduce
the Particulate Count.... in its air
by a modest amount,
that the benefit will be
a modest reduction in the number of premature deaths
in that community.
So, Particulate matter.....does matter
when it comes to human health.
End of Part I
As I illustrated at the beginning
through our 6 Scenarios in Air Quality,
most people are aware of smog
because of the effect that it has
on their breathing.
Smog is not visible at close range,
but if you want to actually see the stuff
all you have to do is drive along Highway 401
east from the City of Toronto.... in the summer
when you can often observe....
a dome of smog..... hanging over the City
as a kind of a sickly orange haze.
(Remember Dr. Bates' description
of the Acid Summer Haze Effect.)
If you keep driving,
as you pass the Cement Plant
at Bowmanville on the Lake Ontario shore,
you will sometimes see
a long plume of smoke
leaving the smoke stack
and snaking its way for miles to the east
as the cement kiln emissions
travel on the prevailing south west wind
towards..........Quinte West ...
and Belleville....and Prince Edward County...
The idea here is that .... air masses
travel ....to Eastern Ontario
from locations ...to the south and west of us.
You can easily see how this happens
if you just look at the weather radar maps
for the whole continent
which are displayed in real time now
at websites such as Accuweather.com .
You can see there
how week after week
there is a constant movement ....
a constant march.....of air masses ,
and low pressure areas....and high pressure areas
from the American mid west,
up the Ohio Valley,
across Lake Erie and Lake Ontario,
and straight down the St. Lawrence Valley,
and from there ...to the Atlantic coast.
So we tend to blame the Americans
as the primary source..... of our air quality problems,
you know, all those nasty industrial sources
in the Ohio Valley sending their emissions here.
And at the same time I get the impression
that people in Ontario
are walking around, secure in the belief
that there is effective regulation of air quality
by the Government of Ontario.
After all , we are doing pretty well
in water quality regulation now,
so why would the same not apply
to our own air standards?
Indeed, the Ontario MoE keeps telling us
that Ontario air standards are "the toughest in North America"
However, I suggest that
a more accurate way to put it
would be to say
that Ontario air standards....are "the weakest in North America,
(except for all the rest)".
How do we know this?
First of all, two international commissions,
the IJC,and the CEC,
have both recently focused
on Canadian federal government data
which reported that.... at least
One Billion Kg of chemicals (that is, one million tonnes)
were released by Canadian Industries
into the Great Lakes Basin environment.......
most of this into the air,
in each of the five years....... 1998 to 2002.
And the situation has not changed substantially
in the 5 or 6 years since then.
This sounds like a lot.........
1 Billion Kg of industrial emissions
dumped into the air of the Great Lakes basin
And that is only the amount that is reported...
a lot of these emissions go unreported.
So that information alone
shows you ...how... in-effective....
our current regulatory program is.
And this is after a 40 year reign
by the Ontario MoE as the regulator
of provincial air quality.
So, together with their federal counterparts
these two levels of government
have been remarkably ....in-effective
in assuring good air quality...in our region.
The second way that we know
that Ontario air standards are not so great
is that.... by looking at 2 or 3 local examples
we find that profitable industries
are being allowed.... to pollute the air.
So it appears that the MoE
as the Ontario regulator of Air quality
is behind in its work.
In Ontario we certainly have made progress
in the regulation of Water Quality
since the ..Walkerton incident,
but in the matter of Air Quality.........
industrial air pollution
and other sources of air pollution
remain ....out of control.
The history of the regulation of air quality in Ontario
is interesting, and this is where
I would like to tell you about
Dr. Donald Chant,
to whom I referred at the beginning.
Dr. Chant was a second Canadian
who also had an important role
in our understanding of the science of air quality.
He was orginally an entomologist ,
and as such he became
a very highly regarded scientist in Canada.
He started his career
as head of the federal Entomology Lab
here in Belleville, back in the 1950's.
Eventually he became
Chairman of the Zoology department
at the University of Toronto in the 1960's.
Now at that time,
in the early 1960's,
a phosphate.... production .....plant
was built on Lake Erie, near Dunnville, Ontario.
It was owned by a British firm,
called ERCO, the Electric Reduction Company.
This factory soon became controversial
as apparently it was poisoning
the surrounding countryside
with Fluoride emissions
which were coming out of its smokestack,
as an unwanted byproduct.
(In fact, ERCO proved to be
an all round environmental hazard
as its legitimate product,
which was phosphate,
used in fertilizers and detergents,
ultimately proved to be the cause
of the so called "death" of Lake Erie
in the late 1960's.)
So the company managed to pollute...
the water....as well as the air
with their products.... and byproducts.
Nevertheless they managed to continue in operation
for the next 30 years,
until the early 1990's.
So CBC Television journalists
Stanley Burke and Larry Gosnell,
did an expose in a film format ,
on this fluoride air pollution issue
and they gave their film the controversial title
"Air of Death",
which when it was broadcast
caused quite a public outcry.
To which the Ontario government eventually responded
by establishing a Royal Commission of inquiry,
called the Hall Commission ,
to look into the matter.
Meanwhile, back at the University of Toronto,
Dr. Chant had assigned
one of his 4th year classes
to look into the case.
One thing led to another, and in 1967
Dr. Chant became the first chairman
of a new organization called
of which you may have heard,
and which still exists.
Until that time the Regulator
of Air Pollution in Ontario
was the provincial Department of Health.
However the feeling was,
based on this case, as well as others,
that the Department of Health
was not being very effective in that role.
So by the early 70's
largely because of the work of Pollution Probe, and Dr. Chant,
the province had created what is now called
the Ministry of Environment
to regulate environmental matters,
including air quality.
This was an example of
Dr. Chant's strong leadership
in environmentall issue in this province,
which over the course of his career
was second to none.
There was a slightly comical
parallel storyline in the ERCO case.
the Vice President of ERCO at the time
was Dr. Omond Solandt.
Dr. Solandt was a medical doctor
and he was another very eminent Canadian scientist
who the chairman of the Science Council of Canada,
and as well the Chancellor of the University of Toronto,
all at that same time that he was V P of ERCO.....(he wore a lot of hats.)
So these two scientists,
Dr. Chant, and Dr. Solandt,
who held powerful positions
in the same faculty
at the same university
at the same time
on the opposite sides of the fence
on the ERCO issue.
As we think back on this
40 years after the fact
we can only imagine the interesting discussions
that must have been held
at the U of T Faculty Club
around this issue... in 1967.
Another Canadian who has been,
and who continues to be,
influential in Ontario air quality
is Mr. Gordon Miller,
the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.
I think that we have to recognise
the very strong contribution
that Mr. Miller has made
to our understanding
of the regulation of industrial air pollution
Although his office has no power,
in his last five Annual Reports ,
which I commend to you,
Mr. Miller really has done a very good job
in focusing on... how far behind
Ontario regulators are ...
in the matter of air quality.
A recent edition of the Commissioner's report
is entitled ....Neglecting Our Obligations. (Show)
The cover page shows
a number of smokestacks in the background,
and the silhouette of a child
in the foreground.
This image itself is a very Powerful one.
The fundamental issue in air quality
that Mr. Miller has identified
is that at present, the Government of Ontario
regulates industrial air emissions
by using two....very.....ineffective ...methods.
The first method .....which is the one
that has been used for many years now,
until very recently,
is called.... POI..... the Point of Impingement method.
In the POI method....
air samples are taken at a location...
which is some distance away....
from the actual source of pollution,
for example, a smoke stack.
Somebody....a technician....goes out
to the property line... of the industry
that has the smokestack,
and they take an air sample ... in a bottle,
and this is sent off to a lab for analysis.
That is the POI method.
Now that method, POI, has with great fanfare..
recently been replaced
by a supposedly.... even better method
which is called ... the AAQC ..
the Ambient Air quality Criteria method
In this new, AAQC method,
no actual air samples are taken ....at all.
Instead, concentrations of air pollution
that might be expected to occur
in the area around..........any particular source
are predicted by ......computer models.
And if you have ever seen
any of the mathematical formulas
on which these computer models are based.....
and on which these Risk Assessments are based
they are very complex....
......and they are very difficult to understand.
Effectively, it seems to me
that although these methods
give the appearance
of being very scientifically based,
and therefore, presumably, very reliable,
that in actual fact
what these Regulatory methods do ,
if you look at the numbers,
is they allow industry.... to dump
as much chemical waste ....as it wants..
into the atmosphere .....
as long as the wind is blowing in the right direction.
Commissioner Miller's point is that
until the government regulates emissions
by what actually comes out of the smokestack,
in other words, testing that is done right at the Mouth of the stack,
which is called ....Source Testing,
which you would think after all
would be the obvious method to use,
and that until they do that,
that we are going to continue
to have a problem.
A good local current example
and one that you might want to look at
if you are interested in air quality issues,
is that of the Cement plant in Bath,
The company there has received a permit
to burn what they refer to as...
in their cement kiln.
Now there was a LOT ........of local objection
to this proposal.....
when it first came along....about 3 years ago.
Nevertheless, the regulator, the Ontario MoE,
on Christmas Eve 2006 no less,
delivered a little present to the community of Bath,
when it announced.......... approval ...
of the company's application
to burn Tires
in the Bath cement kiln.
Now at first glance, this proposal has a certain appeal,
but , because of their chemical composition,
tires, when they are to be disposed of,
are actually a form of..... hazardous waste.
Furthermore, in researching this matter,
a local citizens group
discovered that other kinds of....Hazardous waste
had already been imported
from the United States...
and had already been burned
in the cement kiln at Bath
over the previous 2 or 3 years,
with no public announcement at all
ever made .....by the regulator,
and apparently with no adequate... air quality
monitoring systems....in place.
This cement kiln is equipped
With air pollution control equipment
that was originally installed in 1974.....34 years ago,
when the plant was relocated
to Bath .....from Point Anne.
One might therefore wonder
if there will be effective control
of the type of emissions... that might be expected
if these alternative fuels,
these hazardous wastes,
are to be burned... in a kiln
that was never designed for that purpose
in the first place.
In my opinion this decision by the MoE
to allow the cement company
to burn these alternative fuels
suggests once again, as in 1967, 40 years ago,
that the wrong... government... department
is regulating industrial air emissions in Ontario.
This is a human health issue.
It is the Ontario Public Health officials
who are the experts in human health,
not the MoE.
Furthermore, as Mr. Miller,
has recently pointed out
of every dollar of the Ontario Provincial Budget
the Ministry of Health gets 40 cents, or more
of every provincial dollar.
The MoE, on the other hand,
which incidentally has a huge mandate,
gets 1/3 of one cent.
That is how much we are investing
in environmental protection
in this province.....1/3 of one cent.
and I think that we a getting...what we are paying for,
because as a result, in the past decade
the Ontario MoE...... has been reduced
to a SMALL,..... minor, ......department
of the Ontario government.
So the MoE... is in no position
to be regulating these BIG, .....major,...... industries,
or by virtue of expertise.
In some cases, these are ....multinational,
So it's a kind of a David and Goliath situation.
Therefore, it seems to me ....that we should return
to the original idea..... of regulation of air quality
by an appropriate division........of the Department of Health.
to improve air quality in Ontario
action needs to be taken....
by individual citizens......
and by government ..regulators.
Citizens can do a great deal to Stop Smog...
4 ways........ that I could mention are:
First: Let us all.....Use less electricity and gasoline.
(unless you are elderly or asthmatic or otherwise ill)
turn off the Air conditioner
in your home or car as much as possible.
It's a simple thing,.....and it will save you some money.
that large pickup truck or oversized car
that you are driving around town.....
is a public health hazard.
Get rid of it....
Drive a smaller car.....and drive it less.
Third, if you live out in the country....
stop burning waste
in that back yard burn barrel
(it is one of the worst sources of air pollution)
and if you live in town.....
tell the Board of Health
that you are opposed
to the construction of new waste incinerators.
(As an aside, there is, as we speak,
a very active proposal on the table to build
a very large waste incinerator
in a place called Clarington,
which is in the Oshawa region,
once again, right upwind from us here,
in Eastern Ontario.
Ontario Air Standards are outdated.
Again, when you hear the GO telling you
that Ontario air standards
are "the toughest in North America"
that it would be more accurate to say
that Ontario air standards....
are "the weakest in North America,
(except for all the rest)".
Tell the Board of Health....
that you want effective regulation
of industrial air pollution ...in our province.
At the present time....it is just not happening.