Toronto Star                                                    January 17, 2008

Emissions are tiny but deadly TheStar.com – 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.

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