June 27, 2005

Transboundary air pollution costs Ontario $5.2 billion per year in harm to environment, health

Transboundary air pollution from U.S. sources is responsible for more than half the costs incurred in Ontario each ear in environmental and health damages, says a new report from the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE). Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario is based on 30 years of air quality data and provides the most detailed analysis to date of the impact of U.S. air pollution. It stresses the need for co-operation between Ontario and United States to improve air quality in the province.

"There are no borders to the air we breathe and the cost of doing nothing about air pollution is too high, no matter where you live," said Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky. "This isn't about laying blame-it's about working together with our U.S. colleagues to find cross-border solutions to clean up our air."

MOE experts gathered and analyzed more than three decades of air quality monitoring data. They conducted a systematic, scientific study of historical weather patterns and used advanced computer modelling studies to determine how pollution travels in the atmosphere. Finally, they made a comparison of the quantity of emissions that are released from U.S. sources versus those released by Ontario.

The study confirmed that airborne pollutants are carried into Ontario on the prevailing winds mainly from Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky. Other findings showed that:

*Ontario incurs $9.6 billion in health and environmental damages each year due to air pollution. Of this total, approximately 55% ($5.2 billion) is attributable to transboundary air pollution from the U.S.

*The health costs from air pollution are about $6.6 billion per year. More than half of these costs-some $3.7 billion annually-are related to transboundary air pollution. Each year in Ontario, transboundary air pollution causes more than 2,700 premature deaths, puts almost 12,000 people in hospital, and causes minor illness symptoms in about 2.7 million others.

*Ontario's agricultural sector loses an estimated $200 million per year from damage due to air pollution, such as vegetable crop damage associated with elevated levels of ozone.

*Air pollution causes $77 million per year worth of damage to Ontario's forests.

*Transboundary flow of pollution from neighbouring U.S. states causes higher levels of smog in Ontario-including both ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5)-along with airborne acidic pollutants and other hazardous air pollutants such as mercury.

*The latest evidence shows a wide variation in the impact of transboundary pollution. In some areas, under certain conditions, transboundary air pollution causes 90% of the pollution, while in other areas the impact is far less.

*From May to September each year-the period now known as "smog season" in Ontario-transboundary pollution from neighbouring U.S. states exerts the dominant influence over Ontario's air quality.

*On days when the ozone levels in Ontario's air are high, for example, Ontario's contribution to the ozone problem ranges from about 1% in the Windsor area to about 16% in the area downwind of Toronto.

*On days when the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is high, Ontario's emissions are responsible for about half of the PM2.5 concentrations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Ontario sources contribute a much smaller percentage in the rest of the airshed, particularly near Windsor and in U.S. states located downwind of Ontario.

The report also recognizes that Ontario is responsible for some transboundary pollution. Emissions generated in Ontario have some impact on air quality in Quebec, eastern Canada and the U.S., including New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.

The province, it notes, is taking action to reduce emissions of pollutants such as smog and greenhouse gases through a number of measures. Some of these inlcude: replacing coal-fired generation with cleaner sources of power (including a plan to close all five coal-fired generating stations in Ontario); setting a target of generating 5% of Ontario's electricity from renewable sources by 2007; applying stringent limits for nitrogen oxides (NOX) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) to more industrial sectors than ever before, with plans to tighten these limits even further in future years; and setting tough new air standards for 40 harmful pollutants, some of these subject to limits for the first time.

The report's findings support Ontario's position that a multi-jurisdictional strategy is urgently needed to address the significant problem of transboundary air pollution. The strategy should include a combination of domestic measures by individual states and provinces, and joint undertakings.

On June 20, Ontario hosted the Shared Air Summit at the University of Toronto where policy makers from Ontario and the United States met to discuss transboundary air pollution as well as general air quality issues and their impact on human health, the environment and the economy. The government hopes this event will encourage cross-border actions and solutions to improve air quality in the province.

In a speech to summit participants, Ontario Premier Premier Dalton McGuinty urged his colleagues on both sides of the border to join Ontario in cleaning up the air we share. "We've worked together on water quality for decades now. We need to apply the same regional approach to cleaning up our air," he stated.

McGuinty went on to announced a number of steps aimed at providing momentum and focus to this effort, including:

forming a Shared Air Roundtable to provide strategic advice to the Premier on cleaning up the northeastern air shed;

asking Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant to investigate ways the province can increase its support for those U.S. states that are in legal battles with Washington over clean air;

working to put air quality on the agenda of the next meeting of the Council of Great Lakes Governors;

renewing Ontario's current clean air agreements with Quebec, New York, Minnesota and Michigan and striving to reach first-time agreements with other states; and

inviting the Canadian and U.S. co-chairs of the International Joint Commission to meet to discuss air quality in the northeastern air shed.

The Transboundary Air Pollution report may be viewed on-line at www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/techdocs/5158e_index.htm. Presentations from the Shared Air Summit may be viewed at www.sharedair.ca/.

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