A New RWDI Report as Commissioned by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

This was discovered while reading a new report on Ontario’s Undervalued Water: 2007/08 Annual Report – Getting to K(No)w

Here is a report (full report is attached) presented to Gord Miller, Ontario Environmental Commissioner:

“Predicting Air Quality at Street Level – A State-of-Science Review Study – 08 April 2008 Project # W08-5129A.”


Guess who was contracted to do the report?  RWDI.  The same consulting group that has been waving their paper all over Canada for the TDL group (Tim Hortons) in defence of idling in drive-thrus.

Is this not the greatest contradiction one has ever seen?  From the report:

Air Quality Monitoring and Reporting in Ontario – Fostering a False Sense of Security (p. 57)

In Ontario, air pollution is a public health crisis, with thousands of premature deaths attributed to air pollution each year. To help the public reduce or modify their exposure to poor air quality, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) monitors and provides regular updates on regional ambient air quality through its on-line Air Quality Index (AQI) (see http://www.airqualityontario.com). MOE’s 40 monitoring stations measure six key air pollutants known to be harmful to human health, including ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Unfortunately, Ontarians who rely on the government’s AQI may be lulled into a false sense of security about the quality of the air they breathe. MOE’s monitoring stations are intentionally located away from local sources of pollutants in order to provide representative information about regional average exposure to air pollutants; while MOE’s data is useful for predicting air quality on a regional scale, it does not provide information about local – “street-level” – air quality at any given location.  Current reporting of air quality by MOE based on the AQI may lead Ontarians to believe that air quality on the streets is better than it actually is.

To illustrate this concern, in the summer of 2007 the ECO asked air quality experts to monitor the air quality at street-level at a variety of locations across Ontario. The results revealed that levels of particulate matter were consistently higher at street-level sampling locations than at MOE’s equivalent AQI monitoring stations. For example, while street-level samples collected in downtown Toronto recorded concentrations of particulate matter equivalent to the AQI’s “very poor” category, MOE’s Toronto downtown AQI station reported air quality to be “good” at that time.

The ECO sees a pressing need to overhaul Ontario’s outdated and inadequate air quality monitoring and reporting program to ensure that Ontarians have the information about air quality they need to make informed decisions.

From the report:

Poor air quality can cause a number of adverse health effects in humans. As summarized by Toronto Public Health (TPH, 2004), short-term exposure to pollutants commonly found in urban air can cause increases in respiratory symptoms, infections, emergency room and hospital admissions, and even premature death in some cases. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic health diseases, reduce life expectancy, and increase the risk of lung cancer (TPH, 2004; Pope, 2004; and Halton Region, 2007).

For many years, both the Canadian Federal and Ontario Provincial governments have had programs in place to advise the public of air pollution episodes. These programs make use of both air quality measurements and computer-generated forecasts. For cost reasons, air quality measurement networks tend to be limited to a small number of monitoring stations in any urban area, all located away from major local emission sources, in places such as city parks. Measurements from these sites give information on the regional average exposure to air pollutants. Similarly, computer-generated forecasts are typically resolved at horizontal scales of several kilometres, because of limitations in computing power, and only provide information on regional average exposure.

These measurement and forecast systems have proven useful to advise the public about large scale smog events, but do not deal with public exposure to pollutants at a local or street level. Large numbers of people in urban centres are exposed, at least for parts of their day, to air pollution at street level where vehicle emissions may be trapped in the canyon created by large buildings on either side. As such, the exposure to pollutants at street level is typically very different from the regional average exposure measured at monitoring stations and predicted by computer models.

Due to the human, environmental and economic costs associated with poor air quality, the Environment Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) is interested in knowing how the current air quality forecasting programs in Ontario and the rest of Canada compare to those of other jurisdictions and to the state-of-the-science, in terms of representing the true air pollution exposure of urban populations. This information will allow the ECO to assess whether these programs are adequate for informing the public concerning exposure to poor air quality in Ontario.

To assist with this initiative, the ECO retained RWDI AIR Inc. to perform the following tasks.

• Review and summarize current air quality forecasting and ambient monitoring initiatives being implemented by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Environment Canada. Also, research and briefly summarize operational air quality forecasting and ambient monitoring initiatives used in other national and international jurisdictions.

• Review and summarize the current state-of-the-science for systems designed to predict air pollutant concentrations at street level, to gain an appreciation for what is currently possible and where the science is headed in the future. Predicting Air Quality at Street Level – A State-of-Science Review Study – 08 April 2008 Page 2 Project # W08-5129A

• Prepare a ‘Lay Language’ report (this report). Although the report contains some technical content, the focus is on presenting the information in brief and general terms.

• At a workshop with the ECO, present the findings from this study and explore the approaches being used in Ontario (and Canada as a whole) in light of operational modelling and monitoring initiatives in other jurisdictions and the current state-of-the science. Incorporate into a final report the key issues discussed during the workshop and a list of recommendations for “next steps’.



1 Comment

  1. Hi,

    Interesting Air Pollution topic… Because Climate Change is a Type of Air Pollution:

    When people think of air pollution, they most often associate it with the sort of dirty discharge that can be readily seen coming from the smokestacks of coal-fired plants or even the particulate matter that is emitted from automotive tailpipes. However, the most common and potentially dangerous gases that threaten life on Earth are actually greenhouse gases.

    Carbon dioxide and methane, together, account for about 30% of the “greenhouse effect” that, at levels that had been steady since the end of the last ice age, keeps the Earth at the relatively comfortable temperatures that more life enjoys. However, while the levels of water vapor (which actually account for most of the greenhouse effect) have remained relatively stable, the amount of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere has sky-rocketed, due largely to the burning of fossil fuels and the massive increase in the number of ruminant animals used for meat production.

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