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Part two of a four-part series on health and the environment.
Les Aciers Canam (also known as Canam Steel), the largest manufacturer of steel joists in Canada, reduced their annual air emissions of respiratory toxicants by 317,100 kg simply by switching to a different type of paint. The old paint contained a solvent, called xylene, which is toxic and escapes to the air easily—the new paints contain mineral spirit solvents instead. “Switching paints involved little capital expense—the costs of the new paint is a bit higher, but this is offset by the fact that we reduced emissions and we have a safer working environment for our employees, something we value,” says Jean-Philippe Monfet, Environmental Director for Les Aciers Canam.
Of course, we can’t expect industry to change much without legislation. Some provincial and federal governments have shown leadership with hard targets for the three main sources of smog: industry, energy, and transportation.
In Ontario, new regulations came into effect in 2005 that will reduce emissions from industrial facilities. Regulation 194/05 (effective May 2005) aims to reduce emissions of nitrous oxides by 21 per cent by 2015 (from 1990 levels) and sulphur oxides emissions by 46 per cent (from 1994 levels) for seven industrial sectors. Regulation 419/05 (effective since November 2005) set new standards for levels of air pollutants for the first time in 25 years. Standards for 40 substances have been laid out, 30 of which are lower than previous limits.
“Facilities will now have to inform the ministry if they are out of compliance with these standards. Moreover, the courts will now be able to charge companies that do not comply, with fines up to six million dollars,” says John Steele, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.
Ontario is also taking steps to deal with pollution from energy production, which is the main source of particulate matter in the province. Coal-fired plants—which can be blamed for 668 deaths a year, according to the Ministry of Energy—will all be shut down by 2009. New clean burning natural gas power plants will make up the lost coal power (which at present provides about 17 per cent of Ontario’s electricity), and two new hydroelectric projects and five wind farms (under construction) will help the province meet its goal of generating 10 per cent of Ontario’s power from renewable sources by 2010 (although nuclear power will also be increased with repairs to old reactors and possible construction of new plants).
But for the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in urban areas the biggest problem is transportation. According to Toronto Public Health, transportation emits about 35 per cent of the city’s sulphur oxides, about 65 per cent of nitrous oxides and more than 75 per cent of carbon monoxide.
For this reason the federal government is imposing new restrictions on fuel. As of January 1, 2005 the amount of sulphur in gasoline was limited to an average concentration of 30 parts per million (ppm), down from the 2002 limit of 150 ppm. And as of September 1, 2006 the amount of sulphur contained in on-road diesel fuel will be limited to 15 ppm, down from 500 ppm. These limits are mandatory (regulated by Environment Canada), subject to fines of up to $1 million (CDN).
Industrial emission caps, phasing out ‘dirty’ energy production, and new vehicle fuel standards are all well and good, but air pollution isn’t going to go away with these steps alone. However, there are plenty more solutions available.
When it comes to green power, Canada lags behind. While less than one per cent of Canada’s electricity is generated by wind, Denmark already produces 20 per cent of its power from wind farms. With so many blustery mountains, prairies, and arctic plains, it’s hard to see why Canada doesn’t already lead the world in wind power.