April 26, 2004

Key indicators document continued improvement in Canada's environment

The Fraser Institute's sixth annual survey of key indicators of environmental quality in Canada shows that most - 84% - have improved relative to the 1970s. The study looks at key environmental indicators, including air and water quality, in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico and offers substantial evidence of long-term reductions in contaminant levels.

"While we do still have some environmental challenges to face, such as ozone pollution, coastal water pollution, and fishery protection, we have made spectacular strides in protecting our environment over the last three decades. Canadians should be celebrating, not living their lives in fear of environmental apocalypse," said Dr Kenneth Green, director of the Vancouver-based Institute's Centre for Studies in Risk, Regulation, and Environment.

The survey cites enhanced air quality as one of the greatest success stories in environmental improvement. Ambient levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, which can cause breathing problems and aggravate respiratory disease, decreased by more than 73% overall between 1974 and 2001. Many cities experienced similar reductions, including Toronto (69%), Montreal (79%), and Vancouver (73%). Every city in Canada now meets the strictest annual health standard for SO2, notes the Institute.

In addition, ambient levels of particulate matter decreased 54% between 1974 and 2001. Carbon monoxide levels declined by 83% during the same period, even as total vehicle registrations increased by 30%. Between 1974 and 1998, the survey found that ambient lead levels fell 94% in Canada, to a concentration so low that it is now measured only in a few areas adjacent to potentially concentrated sources of lead emissions.

The survey also documents significant improvements in water quality. Between 1974 and 2002, levels of DDE (a breakdown product of DDT) decreased 86% in Lake Ontario, 89% in Lake Erie, 85% in Lake Michigan, 91% in Lake Superior, and 93% in Lake Huron. PCB levels showed similar trends, decreasing 89% in Lake Ontario, 82% in Lake Erie, 80% in Lake Michigan, 87% in Lake Superior and 92% in Lake Huron relative to their levels in the mid-1970s. In addition, the percentage of Canada's urban population with wastewater treatment rose to 97% in 1999 from 72% in 1983.

The study also notes these contributors to Canada's overall environmental quality:

- The amount of land set aside for parks, wilderness, and wildlife has increased in Canada by 163% since 1970.

- Waste disposed per capita declined in all provinces except Quebec and Alberta between 1994 and 2000. Nova Scotia's decline was the greatest, at 40%.

- Forest harvests have remained below the Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) between 1970 and 1999.

"There is much cause for optimism about the state of Canada's environment," Dr Green observed, adding that, "environmental trends across the board are improving, and should continue to improve in coming years."

The Institute's annual survey is based on data obtained primarily from governmental entities such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The survey may be viewed on the Fraser Institute's Web site, www.fraserinstitute.ca. More information is available from Dr Kenneth Green, 604/714-4547, E-mail keng@fraserinstitute.ca, or from Suzanne Walters, the Institute's communications director, 604/714-4582, E-mail suzannew@fraserinstitute.ca.

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