Toronto Star                                                    January 17, 2008

Emissions are tiny but deadly – comment – Emissions are tiny but deadly

As Toronto’s air gets hot and smoggy this coming summer, it will get harder to breathe, especially for kids, old folks and those with asthma and other respiratory problems.

If you think breathing is tough now, just wait until the McGuinty government’s big waterfront gas-fired power plant starts adding billions of fine particles to our already dirty air. Expect to see more deaths, more people in hospital emergency rooms, more workers off on sick days and more kids with asthma unless the government significantly revises how it plans to operate this plant.

Although Toronto’s Officer of Health recommended that the plant undergo a full environmental assessment, the government ignored the medical advice and allowed the plant to proceed. Without a full assessment there is no mandate to look at reasonable alternatives to the plant and no requirement to assess the effects the plant would have on Torontonians.

Currently, 1,700 Torontonians lose their lives prematurely to air pollution every year. Toronto hospitals spend billions of dollars treating people suffering from serious respiratory ailments and heart problems. Businesses lose billions of dollars because of sick workers.

David Suzuki, a leading Canadian environmentalist, notes that, "Though particulate emissions are about one-tenth what they are for coal power, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 77 per cent of particulates from natural gas plants are dangerously small. These fine particulates have the greatest impact on human health because they bypass our bodies’ natural respiratory filters and end up deep in the lungs. In fact, many studies have found no safe limit for exposure to these substances."

No responsible government should build a large gas power plant in the middle of millions of people without conducting a full environmental assessment.

But there is still time to do the right thing. The government plans to allow this plant to operate 12 to 16 hours a day during the summer and winter seasons to provide electricity to Torontonians. But the plant could operate fewer hours if Dalton McGuinty would make two important changes.

First, the government needs to invest a lot more money in conservation to reduce Toronto’s electricity needs. And second, the government needs to mandate that all electricity consumers with interruptible contacts will have their electricity shut off before this power plant is fired up. Interruptible customers are those who pay lower electricity prices because they agree to shutdowns when electricity is in short supply.

These two changes would ensure this plant operates many fewer hours and consequently causes much less damage than it otherwise would. Surely people’s lives and health should come before the profits of the customers who are shut down and those of the plant owners, Ontario Power Generation and TransCanada.

Torontonians expect their government to look out for their health when it concerns the water they drink or the air they breathe. McGuinty has an opportunity to let Torontonians know he will minimize the damage this plant will do to their lungs and hearts with increased conservation and power interruptions that are already contractually agreed to.

John Wilson is an energy consultant, Toronto Energy Coalition member and engineer. He has worked in the electricity industry in Ontario and the U.S. and served on the board of Hydro One.


Mississauga takes aim at drive-throughs


Councillors propose new guidelines to limit their spread, ease traffic problems


Jan 16, 2008 04:30 AM


The ubiquitous suburban drive-through is under attack in Mississauga.

Councillors have decided to send proposed planning guidelines, which could restrict the spread of drive-through restaurants, to the city’s newly minted environment committee for review.

"I’ve always felt we had too many drive-throughs … It’s a problem," Mayor Hazel McCallion said yesterday. "I don’t think we can ban them, but we certainly have to get them under strict control."

McCallion said she’s tried to have them restricted in the past because of concerns over air pollution caused by idling cars and bad designs that put pedestrians at risk or cause a traffic nightmare.

But she’s never had enough backing on council. This time, she has the support of newer councillors such as George Carlson, chair of the environmental advisory committee, and Carolyn Parrish.

The Mississauga guidelines, five years in the making and similar to those imposed by Toronto in 2005, could make it impossible to create drive-throughs on small lots because of required setbacks from homes and the street. They also frown on designs that force pedestrians to walk across drive-through lanes to get into the restaurant.

The guidelines say that where possible, access should be right turns in and right turns out only to avoid traffic backups on main streets.

The industry had balked at guidelines it deemed too restrictive if imposed citywide, so planners came up with a compromise, allowing the rules to be implemented on a site-by-site basis. "It doesn’t mean we are watering down," said planner Andrew McNeil. "But it does give us some flexibility."

That flexibility doesn’t sit well with Carlson and Parrish, who want the environment committee to take a look at developing actual bylaws.

The committee, with McCallion’s backing, is also pushing to create an anti-idling bylaw similar to Toronto’s, under which drivers who idle for more than several minutes can be ticketed.

Parrish has asked staff to study legal precedents for limiting or even eliminating drive-throughs, report on their locations and suggest strategies to lessen their effects. Staff didn’t consider environmental issues when they drew up the guidelines, she said.

"It’s a case where we have to show leadership," Carlson said. "It’s not just an environmental issue. It affects the city’s culture and streetscapes and is about what kind of city we want to build."

Rob Evans, president of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said yesterday his group had worked with the city on the guidelines. He also said they could pose challenges to members.

"We accept that we have to work with municipalities, be responsible to the environment and our customers," said Evans. However, he added, "any time a guideline or a rule or a regulation is introduced which distracts or reduces revenues and results in job loss, it is absolutely a concern to us."

Tim Hortons vice-president Nick Javor, who also worked with the city, said the company supports site-by-site application of rules instead of a blanket zoning bylaw.

"Every site has its peculiarities," said Javor. Customers, especially people with mobility problems and families with young children, have repeatedly told the company they appreciate the convenience of drive-throughs, he said.

He acknowledged that drive-through designs change over time. All Tim Hortons wants, he said, is to have input in future decisions.

Guidelines in both Toronto and Mississauga have arisen from situations where a particular location caused problems to residents.

McCallion decried one at Britannia Rd. and Hurontario St., where lineups sometimes back onto a busy street, and pedestrians are forced to dodge cars waiting in line.

In Toronto, the guidelines came about after a bitter fight by residents against a proposed McDonald’s drive-through on St. Clair Ave. W. near Bathurst St., which ended when McDonald’s withdrew its application. Toronto’s guidelines encourage use of a pedestrian entrance via the sidewalk. The drive-through itself should have access from a small side street and exit onto a main street.