24 Jul

Forest fires impact air quality across Canada

Source: http://www.theweathernetwork.com/ By: Daksha Rangan Digital Reporter

What’s been causing Western Canada’s recent smog alerts and poor air quality? The answer lies somewhere between forest fires and upwind.
Canada’s western provinces have been on the radar.
July was a month of tornadoes, heavy rainfall, and forest fires in Canada, leaving behind a series of air quality advisories travelling from the western provinces into the prairies.

Then came the questions: How do forest fires in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories affect the air in Saskatchewan? Are certain provinces more prone to poor air quality? What should people do to protect themselves during air quality advisories? The Weather Network’s digital meteorologist Scott Sutherland helped answer some burning questions.


As part of the natural cycle of forest regeneration, every year the Northwest Territories sees thousands of hectares of wilderness enveloped in flames. This year’s fires, however, have been some of the worst in the region’s history. In an interview with the National Post, Mike Flannigan, wildland fire professor in the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department, says that this year’s fire season is one of the worst on record, and that conditions in the future are likely to be even worse.


But it’s not only the spread of fire that had people worried. As the flames erupted, smoke was pushed so far south that it has drifted thousands of kilometres into the U.S. border, and farther east through the prairie provinces of Canada. The smog and smoke have left Canada’s western provinces in a state of frequently emerging air quality advisories.

Provinces in western Canada, on average, tend to have cleaner air than eastern provinces. This is mainly due to the fact that the air flow that Western provinces receives comes from an area that tends to be cleaner, coming in from the ocean. According to The Weather Network’s meteorologist Scott Sutherland, generally, the area most known for its poor air quality spans from Windsor to Quebec City, primarily due to the Ohio Valley. “The highly industrialized and urbanized Ohio Valley, along with the plentiful coal-burning power plants, tend to mean a lot of air pollution for the eastern half of the country as winds carry this pollution across the border from the U.S,” Sutherland says. By contrast, the wind flow into BC (also known as “upwind”) tends to come from over the ocean, and the flow that travels through the Prairie provinces tends to come from the Midwest and the mountains, which, Sutherland adds, just don’t have the same concentration of industrial pollution sources.

In fact, air quality can worsen each day as more pollution is added to the mix. Stagnant weather patterns are the cause of this, enabling local pollution to situate in the same area. So how do forest fires come into the mix? Sutherland says the smoke from forest fires is composed mostly of a fine particulate matter – one of the major components of smog. The gases emitted into the atmosphere by the burning can also produce ozone, which another major component of smog. Naturally, the result of forest fires is the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing pollution in the downwind smoke plume – hence the emergence of air quality advisories as far as Saskatchewan, following the BC forest fire. Sutherland says the major determinants of how much a forest fire can impact bordering provinces are the size of the fires, the amount of smoke produced, how long the fires last, and what wind the direction blows.

Weather patterns often move from west to east, but the surface winds that often pick up the smoke are a bit more unpredictable. “The smoke could end up blowing down through the mountain valleys, out to sea where it won’t affect anyone, out to sea, and then back on land, affecting the coast, or possibly down to the Prairie provinces,” Sutherland says, referencing B.C. and the Northwest Territories’ recent fires.


Finally, the most important question – what should the public do in the event of an air quality advisory? Sutherland notes that the major risks are all about concentration and exposure time. The more severe the smoke is in a specific region, even a small amount of exposure can send people to the emergency room with respiratory-related injuries. Long-term exposure to high concentrations can be fatal, while being exposed to low concentrations for long periods of time can cause health problems, possibly even reducing a person’s expected life span. Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) tracks short-term impacts, while the Canada-wide standards (CAAQS) covers long-term.

Ideally, when an air quality advisory is issued, the public is generally advised to limit the amount of time spent outside. The concern is even higher for those suffering from asthma, lung disease, heart disease, or similar problems.

Air quality advisories have the potential to affect multiple provinces, even though they often begin situated in one location. Flat areas like the Prairie provinces are not so prone to bad air quality – even if the air does flow down from the west and remain stagnant, the wind flow will usually carry that air east bound. In Vancouver and parts of B.C. where mountains are blocking the flow of air, pollution and smog can become easily trapped, making certain geographic regions more prone to stagnant, poor air quality. But once bad air quality travels, it can be carried by wind and brought as far east as the Maritime provinces.

As for forest fires, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed. Sutherland says the western part of the continent is currently under a dry spell, making it highly susceptible to forest fires. In areas that are densely forested, sometimes all it takes is a strike of lightning.

20 Jul

High E. coli counts detected at 3 West Vancouver beaches

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/

E. coli counts above 200 per 100 mL, which is considered the upper-limit for safe recreational use

aerial-view-of-west-vancouver-beyond-lions-gate-bridgeAn aerial view looking west shows the shoreline of West Vancouver beyond the Lions Gate Bridge. Vancouver Coastal Health says three of the municipality’s beaches have tested positive for high levels of E. coli in the water, and that swimmers should stay out of the water until the concentrations go down. (Vancouver Coastal Health)

Health officials are warning people against swimming at three West Vancouver beaches after routine water quality sampling turned up E.coli bacteria counts exceeding safe-level limits.

“No Swimming” advisories are now in effect for Ambleside, Dundarave and Sandy Cove beaches.

Health officials say the relatively high concentration of E.coli bacteria detected can increase a swimmer’s risk of coming down with gastro-intestinal illness.

E.coli is considered to be an indicator organism associated with fecal contamination from either human or animal

Vancouver Coastal Health says it is investigating the cause of the elevated bacteria count.

E. coli counts for the Vancouver-area beaches are updated every Friday, based on sampling results provided by the Greater Vancouver Regional District Water Quality Laboratory.

01 Jul

Toronto public health report: Neighbourhood polluters cause 120 deaths per year

Source: http://www.thestar.com/ By: Todd Coyne Staff Reporter

Toronto small-scale air polluters — such as laundries — cause 120 deaths, 200 hospitalizations every year, says a Toronto Public Health report

Neighbourhood polluters like autobody shops and corner laundries cause the deaths of at least 120 city residents ever year, according to a new Toronto Public Health report.
The 2014 ChemTRAC study is the first of its kind in Canada to measure the impacts of local, low-emitting polluters and to attribute a body count to industries as diverse as coin-op cleaners and city-vehicle repair bays.
The report collected 2012 data from more than 700 businesses and city-run facilities that emitted at least one of 25 high-priority pollutants in significant amounts.
The report attributes 120 premature deaths and 200 hospitalizations for heart and lung diseases to air pollution, while deaths related to exposure to cancer-causing toxins like cadmium — commonly found in welding and manufacturing businesses — and tetrachloroethylene, a liquid used in dry cleaning, could not be proven directly and were not counted.
“These are just from respiratory and cardiac diseases,” said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Ronald Macfarlane, saying heart-attack and stroke are among the biggest pollution-related causes of death. “We don’t have the information to estimate the cancer contribution.”
Likewise, illnesses linked to non-airborne, non-carcinogenic toxins like mercury and lead in city waterways are not counted among the casualties, although their emissions are counted in the ChemTRAC data.
In all, 745 facilities either made, processed or used approximately 71,000 tonnes of priority pollutants in 2012. Of those, about 10 per cent, or 8,000 tonnes, were released directly into the environment, mostly into the air.
“Knowing that the air is polluted is one thing,” Coun. Gord Perks (see Gord Perks’s policard) told the Star. “Knowing that it comes from these specific places in your neighbourhood, I think, empowers Torontonians to better understand what needs to be done to make our air safe and healthy to breathe.”
The Toronto Board of Health approved a motion Monday asking that the provincial government partner with the city in encouraging ChemTRAC polluters to reduce their emissions by 2015.
“That’s a very complicated way of dealing with the fact that we don’t have clean regulatory jurisdictions around pollution,” Perks said.
While the city has greater leverage over polluters who dump toxins into city sewers and waterways, air pollution falls squarely under provincial jurisdiction.
The purpose of the ChemTRAC report, according to Macfarlane, is to fill in the gaps in Environment Canada’s annual National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), a survey which only measures pollutants from large-scale industrial emitters.
“We are able to get a much finer grain of information in terms of the more highly toxic substances (with ChemTRAC),” Macfarlane said.
While the GTA is home to its share of large-scale polluters too, it has many more small- to medium-scale emitters which are missed by the NPRI survey and are potentially more dangerous to Toronto residents, Macfarlane said.
“We are a very large urban centre where people live quite closeby to industry, so the potential for impact is much greater.”