No escaping foul stench of city smog days
Submitted by OCAA on Thu, 05/31/2007 - 23:30.
For the third time in three weeks Guelph has been included in the Ministry of the Environment's smog alert. One recent smog alert extended from Windsor into northern Ontario.
The only way to escape for anyone experiencing breathing problems was to travel 6-8 hours (maybe more). Or, during smog days put on your air conditioner or buy a very expensive home air filtration unit. It's unlikely, however, that many low income seniors or those living at or below the poverty line can afford either of these partial solutions to alleviate respiratory problems. Even if you can afford AC it requires energy and the production of the electricity itself contributes pollution.
Take for example the coal burning Nanticoke generating station. It is estimated to generate as much pollution as 3.3 million cars a year and is the single largest generator of smog producing pollution in Ontario. It is appalling that Guelph city councillors Christine Billings, Kathleen Farrelly, Gloria Kovach and Karl Wettstein did not recently support the phase out of Nanticoke by 2009. Perhaps these councillors would have voted differently if they were required to send a letter of sympathy to the families of the estimated 490 people a year who will die as a result of the pollution generated by Nanticoke.
Another contributing factor to smog is the hundreds (more likely thousands) of drivers in Guelph who use restaurant drive-throughs on bad air days and every day to get their coffee or food. Perhaps the first thing the person at the order window should ask is, "Would you like some oxygen with your fries?" or how about, "You've been idling for 10 minutes, can I supersize your intake of greenhouse gases?"
The Clean Air Partnership believes that "we would need to plant 30 million trees to absorb the air pollution resulting from GTA drivers idling five minutes a day for one year."
Guelph has an anti-idling bylaw. Does the city send out its bylaw officers to enforce the anti-idling bylaw on smog alert days or any day? Has the city approached restaurants with a drive through to ask for a voluntary shut down on smog days? Has there been any dialogue between the city and Chamber of Commerce on how the city can partner with business to voluntarily shut down non-necessary equipment on smog alert days?
Everyone who is concerned about air quality should be asking our mayor and councillors to be proactive and act locally to reduce smog in Guelph. Each of us can also do our part each and every day to reduce smog. For instance, don't mow your lawn with your gas mower on smog alert days and take transit instead of your car.
According to the Ontario Medical Association, air pollution is "a public health crisis" in Ontario. The OMA also says that air pollution kills over 5,900 people per year in Ontario and costs our economy over $7.8 billion per year in health care costs, lost work time and other quantifiable expenses.
As taxpayers we fund the economic costs of pollution through our taxes and rising health insurance rates. City council may want to give some thought to the thousands of children with asthma and adults with respiratory conditions who will have difficulty breathing during the night and every night when there is a smog problem.
The time to take action is now. There is still a long, hot, smoggy summer ahead of us.
Laura Murr is a local environmentalist with pulmonary fibrosis related to her breast cancer treatments.