Respiratory illnesses remain despite top air-quality report

This is a great article that supports what we do here at Clean Air Champions. We know that we don't have the WORST air quality in the world but we can say with certainty that there is NO safe level of exposure to smog.  Dave's article clearly indicates that although we didn't fail the air pollution comparisons, we certainly need to take care and be AIR AWARE!

 

Nanaimo Daily News, Derek Spalding, September 28, 2011

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT OUR AIR

Nanaimo's air quality tied for fourth in the world with Terrace, B.C., Nelson, B.C., Corner Brook, NL, Fredericton, N.B., and Clearlake, Calif., in the WHO study; Canada tied for third with Australia, following Estonia and Mauritius

Passenger vehicles spewed at least 30% more greenhouse gases in Nanaimo in 2007 than the Harmac pulp mill, according to the B.C. Environment Ministry. All vehicle traffic created 263,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, compared to Harmac's 131,000 tonnes. h

Nanaimo may have some of the best air quality in the world, but improving it even further will help reduce the high rate of respiratory illnesses among residents. The World Health Organization identified the city as fourth-best among 1,100 cities when measuring outdoor pollutants. The WHO launched a database this week comparing air quality in cities from 91 countries. Despite the impressively high ranking, Nanaimo's respiratory illness rates remain higher than the provincial average, according to data from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

WHO created the database to grade each country's pollution levels, but says the information for each city provides a much more accurate description. Air quality reduces with the combination of polluters, including industrial sites, transportation, power generation and indoor fuel combustion.

Harmac remains the biggest polluter in Nanaimo, but significant reductions have helped improve the release of greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicles collectively contribute the largest amount of greenhouse gases in Nanaimo.

WHO measures miniscule particles that are 50 to 100 times thinner than a strand of human hair. This type of pollution is tracked over the long term and can be deceiving, according to health experts.

"What seems to be good air for some people can still cause health problems," said Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for central Vancouver Island. "Whatever can be done to improve air quality will reduce the health impacts. It may be fourth in 1,100 communities, but it could be better."

The overall air quality in Nanaimo stands up to its latest ranking, largely because of the climate and geography provided by coastal living, but there have been issues that have stood out.

Pockets of the city tend to have worse pollution levels than other areas. In the winter of 2008, neighbourhoods in and around Departure Bay, south Nanaimo and Long Lake had the highest levels of particulate matter, according to provincial government data.

Ministry of Environment researchers drove Nanaimo streets on 14 nights between Jan. 14 to April 14, tracking fine particulate air pollution (or PM 2.5), the same measurement used by the WHO for its database. The researchers found that Nanaimo had good overall air quality, but found exceptions in some areas.

Health officials suggest the problem could stem from wood smoke, something they still see as a significant contributor to the higher-than-average hospital admission rate for respiratory diseases for people under the age of 15. Nanaimo's admission rate for that age group was 6.1 per 1,000 people in 2008-09, similar to the six residents admitted for every 1,000 people for all of Vancouver Island. The provincial rate was 5.1, which is about an 18% difference.

Children are more susceptible to the harms of fine particulate air pollution (or PM 2.5) because their respiratory systems are still developing.

Harmac has been the leading pollutant for decades.

The employee-owned pulp mill produced 71,406 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2009, which was down from 2007 when it was in full production and producing about 131,000 tonnes of gas. In 1991, the mill pumped out a whopping 175,000 tonnes of gas. All that pollution certainly doesn't help air quality, health officials explain.

Poor air quality contributes to a range of health issues, including increased risk of acute respiratory disease and more chronic conditions, such as lung cancer or cardiovascular disease. About 2,400 people die every year in Canada as a result of air pollution, according to WHO officials. Globally, an estimated 1.3 million deaths are from outdoor air pollution.

Reducing pollutants has been a focus for several organizations in Nanaimo. City staff and VIHA heavily promoted a wood-stove change-out program, which gave people a rebate toward a more efficient wood stove if they turned in their old one.

And the federal government has injected millions of dollars into Harmac to help reduce the amount of pollutants it produces.

Harmac used the first portion of federal Green Transformation Funds to improve its energy efficiency and environmental performance. The initial investment of a promised $27 million went toward upgrading pulp machines to lessen their energy consumption and lower the mill's emissions.

DSpalding@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4231

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