Some Good News for People and the Planet

It has been a good week for people and the planet. Last Monday, November 21st, 2016, the federal government announced that it will take steps to phase out pollution from coal-fired power plants across the country by 2030. And on Thursday, November 24th, the Government of Alberta announced that it has signed an agreement with three major power generators to ensure a phase-out of coal plants in Alberta by 2030.

There will be time in the coming days to examine and critique the details surrounding these two new announcements but today we want to acknowledge what they can mean for human health in Alberta, across Canada, and around the world.

A new report endorsed by 15 health and environmental organizations—including the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Asthma Society of Canada, and the Lung Association—estimates that a Canada-wide phase-out of coal power by 2030 would prevent more than 1000 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions or emergency room visits and nearly $5 billion in health care costs by improving local air quality. In fact, most of these national health benefits will be realized in the Prairies—about $3 billion in Alberta and up to $1.3 billion in Saskatchewan. While the lion’s share of the benefits will happen in the Prairies, there will still be important benefits realized in the Atlantic provinces and in central Canada, making a Canada-wide coal-phase out truly in the country’s national interest.

The 2030 phase-out will also significantly reduce mercury emissions. Mercury is the reason that pregnant women are warned not to eat certain types of fish during pregnancy. It is a persistent substance that accumulates in the aquatic food chain that can harm the brains of children exposed during pregnancy. Reducing this pollution will mean that these harmful effects can be minimized; that we can reclaim fish as a healthy protein source for all.

In addition, the 2030 phase-out will help Canada’s fight against climate change. Renowned medical journal The Lancet estimates that climate change is already responsible for approximately 150,000 deaths each year. People are dying from malnutrition, malaria, infectious disease and extreme heat; conditions made worse by a climate characterized by more frequent and more intense storms, heat waves, and droughts. People in countries that are already struggling to feed their people will experience many of these health impacts, but Canada will not be immune. Over the last 10 years, Canada has experienced an increase in droughts, wildfires, extreme rain and ice storms, floods and extreme heat. We have seen the spread of insect- and tick-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. And we have seen permafrost and ice roads melting in the far north. Canadians are already being affected by climate change, both in economic and health terms.

By accelerating the closure of coal plants across the country, we will cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 8%. This will help Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and put us in a stronger position to ask the same of other countries. But more importantly, we will be acting decisively to improve the health of Albertans, Canadians and other people around the world from the ravages of uncontrolled climate change.

We congratulate the governments of Alberta and Canada in their decisions to phase out coal-fired power, and to reap the important health benefits for Albertans and all Canadians. Now the hard work begins: designing plans to ensure this transition happens quickly, in partnership and collaboration with communities most impacted. We look forward to working with all levels of governments throughout this process.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), on November 25, 2016

Health Benefits from a Canada-Wide Coal Phase-Out

In collaboration with CAPE and nine other health organizations, energy think tank the Pembina Institute has released a new report titled “Out with the coal, in with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power”. This report estimates the air pollution-related health benefits associated with a Canada-wide phase-out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.

There are currently 14 coal plants operating in Canada: six in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan, four in Nova Scotia, and one in New Brunswick.  These plants are significant emitters of air pollutants, mercury that contaminates fish, and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

In 2012, Environment Canada found that coal regulations, which limit carbon dioxide emissions from these plants or require their closure after 50 years of operation, would produce $4.9 billion in health benefits over a 20-year period by improving air quality in several provinces.

When the Pembina Institute extrapolated those health benefits to a 2030 phase-out date, it found that the health benefits would be doubled producing an additional $5 billion in health benefits over a 20-year period by further improving air quality.

In 2014 alone, the study found that these 14 coal-fired power plants were responsible for approximately 163 premature deaths and 141 hospital admissions or emergency room visits.  These health impacts, along with other related impacts, were valued at approximately $816,000,000.

value-of-health-outcomes-for-canada

While these health benefits would be realized in the four provinces that operate coal-fired power plants, the provinces downwind of them – Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island – would also experience improved air quality and reduced health impacts.  The report notes that greatest health benefits would be realized in the prairies because of the heavy use of coal plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The report notes that substantial health benefits would also result from the elimination of mercury emissions from these coal plants.  The 2030 phase-out would also cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 8.5% and make Canada a role model for other countries around the world.

Click here to read the full report or download a two-page summary factsheet.

Click here to view the press release.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, November 21, 2016

Strong Support for Ban of Cosmetic Pesticides in Alberta

A new opinion poll reveals that nearly two thirds of Albertans (62%) would support a provincial law that phases out the use and sale of toxic pesticides for lawns and gardens. The poll, conducted by OraclePoll Research, is based on interviews with 1000 Albertans from the last week of August 2016. The results are considered accurate 19 times out of 20.

The poll found that 66% of Albertans believe that lawn and garden pesticides, often called cosmetic pesticides, pose a threat to the health of children. This demonstrates that Albertans have a high level of awareness about the health hazards posed by pesticides, particularly for children.

The poll also found that many Albertans (nearly 7 out of 10) believe that pesticides present a health risk to their pets. Again this perception aligns with the scientific literature that reports increased rates of cancer among pets exposed to lawn and garden pesticides.

Pesticides used on lawns and gardens have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and deficits in the mental and physical development of children. Early life exposure to pesticides can affect the health and abilities of a child for their entire life. Pesticides used on lawns and gardens can be tracked indoors where they can be a substantial source of exposure for young children and pets.

Alberta is one of only three Canadian provinces that has no provincial law banning the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides. This new poll indicates that there is considerable voter appetite for a provincial law that bans the use of toxic pesticides on lawns and gardens.

“Would you support or oppose a law that phases out the use and sale of all but the safest pesticides for lawns and gardens in Alberta? The law would not apply to mosquito control, agriculture or forestry.”

Bar graph: 62% Support, 33% Oppose, 5% Don't know

Links:
Press Release (October 11, 2016)
Pesticides Policy Report (August 2016)
Provincial Scorecard (August 2016)

All Children Should Have a Space Free of Toxic Pesticides to Explore

Photo: A young child sits on grass holding a bunch of dandelions.

On August 30, 2016, CAPE released a new report which examines provincial laws and municipal bylaws across Canada that have been used to ban the cosmetic use of toxic pesticides on lawns and gardens.

There is a robust body of evidence that links pesticide exposures to certain types of cancer in children and adults, deficits in the mental and motor development of children, and adverse reproductive effects such as low birth weights and cleft palate.  While the increased risk associated with pesticides is considered small by some, many researchers and public health professionals have recommended that exposure to toxic pesticides should be avoided or minimized, particularly for non-essential uses such as lawn and garden care.

CAPE found that while seven provinces have cosmetic pesticide bans, only two provinces provide strong protection from toxic pesticides: Ontario and Nova Scotia, which scored an A- and a B, respectively.  Both of these provinces ban the use of toxic pesticides for gardens, shrubs and trees, as well as lawns.  And both laws are structured around a white list that identifies the pesticide ingredients/products that can only be used for cosmetic purposes because they have been found to be safe, low in toxicity, and not persistent.

The white list approach has also been adopted by Manitoba (which scored a B-), but it applies only to herbicides used on lawns.  Unfortunately, the current government in Manitoba is considering withdrawing this law when it should be extending it to gardens, shrubs and trees.

Quebec’s current regulations (which scored a C) are not as protective as those in Nova Scotia and Ontario because they only apply to about 20 active ingredients when used on lawns.  Quebec is the only province in the country to provide some coverage to indoor environments.  It applies a white list approach to indoor environments frequented by children, such as child care centres.  Given the sensitivity of children to toxic substances and their increased potential for exposure (because they spend more time on floors and put their hands in their mouths more than adults), this is an important public health policy that should be adopted by other jurisdictions.  In November 2015, Quebec proposed a new pesticides strategy that would overhaul its approach to agricultural pesticides as well as those used for cosmetic purposes.

While Newfoundland and Labrador has a law banning pesticides, the law only applies to five active ingredients when applied to lawns.  PEI and New Brunswick have laws banning the use of 2,4-D on lawns.   Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have no laws prohibiting the use of toxic pesticides on lawns or gardens.

The CAPE report, Cosmetic Pesticides – Provincial Policies & Municipal Bylaws: Lessons Learned & Best Practices (cape.ca/pesticide-policy-report), identifies and discusses best practices for both provincial laws and municipal bylaws. For a high-level summary, please review the accompanying backgrounder.

Pesticides scorecard

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director of CAPE, and Ian Arnold MHSc, LLB, lead author.

WHO Conference on Climate Change and Health

IMG_20160707_144336-cropped

In July, I had the privilege of participating in the second World Health Organization (WHO) Conference on Climate Change and Health.  The conference brought together government officials, ministers of health and environment, technical experts, NGO representatives, civil society, and even the Queen of Spain to discuss priorities and actions on behalf of the health community to respond to climate change.

The many health impacts of climate change were identified including intense heat waves, extreme weather events, vector-borne diseases, contaminated water, forced displacement, the increased risk of violent conflict from resource scarcity, and exacerbation of poverty.  It was acknowledged that the most vulnerable are paying the human cost of our energy consumption.

Forest Fire in British Columbia, 2015

Several people reported on the climate health impacts being experienced in their countries.  For example, Dr. Mario Baquilod of the Philippines reported that they experienced record breaking temperatures of 52 degrees C in the Philippines this year.  He indicated that they had over 20,000 cases of diarrhea and 19 deaths this year due to contaminated water supplies and that rates of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever have increased.  He also noted that more than 2,000 health facilities were destroyed in Typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines in 2013.

A few speakers identified the many health co-benefits that can be realized by taking action on climate change.  For example, WHO Climate Health Lead, Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, reported that the burning of fossil fuels for transport and energy production contributes to nearly 7 million air pollution-related deaths each year.  He noted, for example, that by promoting the transition from cars to healthy public transport and cycling to reduce greenhouse gases, we can also produce health benefits by improving air quality, reducing road traffic injuries, and fostering physical activity.

Commuters on bicycle in the city.

Some described the innovative steps that are being taken in some jurisdiction to mitigate or adapt to climate change. For instance, in West Africa, they are creating cereal banks to address the cyclical food crises from droughts.  In Rwanda, a project called DelAgua has distributed over 60,000 advanced water filters and clean cook stoves.

Others spoke about the need to build climate resilience into health care systems, particularly in low income nations.  They identified the need for more health education and technology transfer to low income nations to help predict climate health risks, triage financial resources, and invest in key resilience strategies such as early warning systems.

There were discussions about the need to educate the public and decision-makers about the impact that climate change is having on human health, to reframe it as a social justice issue, and to identify it as an inter-generational issue.  Dr.Nick Watts, head of the Lancet Commission on Climate Health, reported that he is creating indicators that can be used to monitor the impacts of climate change on human health. The goal is to create a social license that can be used to clearly advocate for health and climate issues.

There was a sense of urgency at the closing of the conference. There was a feeling that we have limited time to change the trajectory of our economic systems. But there was also a feeling of optimism and positivity.  Many agreed that we have an opportunity to reframe and mobilize political and social will on what could be the greatest health opportunity of our time.

Guest Blog:  Kelly Lau, Medical Student at McGill University, and CAPE Member

Three Health Reasons to Close Coal Plants!

Photo: Ontario Power Generation-Demolition of Lakeview Generating Station, Mississauga, Ontario

Working in collaboration with 15 health organizations from across Canada, CAPE made a formal submission to one of the four Federal/Provincial Working Groups that is collecting ideas to create the Climate Action Plan that will meet Canada’s obligations to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

The submission, co-signed by organizations such as Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Canadian Lung Association, the Asthma Society of Canada, and the Canadian Public Health Association, calls for the closure of all coal-fired power plants in Canada by 2025.  Our reasons are three-fold:

  1. The closure of coal-fired power plants globally is essential to the slowing of climate change;

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared climate change to be “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century” (WHO, 2016).  It has estimated that, between 2030 and 2050, climate change will produce at least 250,000 additional deaths each year: 38,000 due to heat exposure among elderly people; 48,000 due to diarrhoea; 60,000 due to malaria; and 95 000 due to childhood under-nutrition (WHO 2014a). 

Coal-fired power plants are one of the most significant emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on a global scale.  They are responsible 43% of greenhouse gases from all energy-related activities (IEA, 2015).  The International Energy Agency has identified the closure of coal-fired power plants as one of the five climate policies essential to international success on climate change (IEA, 2015).

Before 2005, coal-fired power plants were responsible for about 15% of Canada’s greenhouse gases (NIR, 2014).  By phasing out is six coal-fired power plants, Ontario has reduced Canada’s GHG emissions by about 7%.  In 2014, coal-fired power plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were still responsible for were responsible for about 8.5% of all GHG emissions in Canada (NIR, 2014).  In order for Canada to effectively advocate for their closure globally, it must demonstrate leadership at home. 

  1. The closure of Canada’s coal-fired power plants will prevent heart and lung diseases, premature deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits in Canada; 

Coal-fired power plants release large volumes of air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter that have been clearly and consistently linked to increased rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer, and increased rates of asthma symptoms, respiratory infections, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature deaths (WHO, 2013). 

In 2005, Ontario’s six coal plants were estimated to be responsible for more than 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1000 emergency room visits in Ontario each year (OMOE, 2005).  These health impacts were valued at $4.4 billion per year (OMOE, 2005).  In 2013, the six coal-fired power plants in Alberta were estimated to be responsible for approximately 100 premature deaths, 80 hospital admissions, 700 emergency room visits, and 4,800 asthma symptom days.  These health impacts have been valued at approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion over a 10-year period (Pembina 2013).

Coal-fired power plants are one of the most significant sources of sulphur dioxide which is a precursor of fine particulate matter.  In 2014, with 736 emitters of sulphur dioxide in Canada, 12 of the top 25 emitters were coal-fired power plants; five in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan, three in Nova Scotia, and one in New Brunswick (ECCC, 2014a).

  1. The closure of Canada’s coal-fired power plants will help protect the mental capacity of our children from mercury.

By closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in Canada, we can help protect the cognitive development of our children, reduce health and social service expenses associated with neuro-developmental health impacts, and reclaim fish as a high-quality protein source that is available as a traditional food source or economic resource. 

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury; a persistent toxic substance that accumulates in the aquatic food chain (CCME, 2005). Prenatal and early life exposure to mercury, resulting from the consumption of mercury-contaminated fish, has been linked to adverse developmental impacts such as reductions in cognitive abilities and motor skills (CCME, 2005).  Researchers have attributed 3.2% of intellectual disability cases in the United States to mercury exposure and valued these excess cases at $2.0 billion per year (Trasande et al., 2006).  Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children, and populations that depend on fish as a traditional food source, are at greatest risk from mercury (CCME, 2005).

In 2014, nearly 2,400 kilograms of mercury were emitted into the air from 269 sources across Canada (ECCC, 2014).  Coal-fired power plants were the single largest source of those emissions; responsible for nearly 35% of mercury emissions nationally (ECCC, 2014).  Two of the plants operating in Saskatchewan were the two highest emitters in the country; responsible for approximately 16% of all mercury released across Canada (ECCC, 2014).

The submission from CAPE and its partners can be viewed here. 

The press release is available here.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE

References

  • Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). 2005. Canada-Wide Standards for Mercury Emissions from Coal-Fired Electric Power Generation Plants (2006).
  • Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC). 2014. NPRI Data: Mercury. NPRI-Mercury-2014
  • Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC). 2014a. NPRI Data: Sulphur Dioxide. NPRI-Sulphur Dioxide-2014
  • International Energy Agency (IEA). 2015. Energy ad Climate Change.  IEA-Climate Change 2015
  • National Inventory Report (NIR). 2014. Table A13-1 of Part 3.  UNFCCC Inventories 2014
  • Ontario Ministry of Energy (OMOE). Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation. Prepared by DSS Management Consultants Inc. RWDI Air Inc. April, 2005
  • Pembina Institute, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Asthma Society of Canada and The Lung Association Alberta and NWT (Pembina). 2013. A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.
  • L, C Schechter, K.A. Haynes, P.J. Landrigan. 2006.. Mental retardation and prenatal methylmercury toxicity. Am J Ind Med. 2006 Mar;49(3):153-8.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16470549
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP Project.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2014a. Quantitative risk assessment of the effects of climate change on selected causes of death, 2030s and 2050s. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/134014/1/9789241507691_eng.pdf?ua=1
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2016. WHO Director-General Keynote address at the Human Rights Council panel discussion on climate change and the right to health. http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2016/human-rights-council/en/

Health Professionals Call for End for Coal

Coal Power Plant for Electricity Production - Chimeneas Industriales

More than 300,000 doctors, nurses, public health professionals and public health advocates represented by 82 organizations from 30 countries have released a Global Health Statement on Coal Plants today, in anticipation of next week’s G7 summit.  The statement calls on the G7 leaders to discuss the phase-out of coal plants as a key health issue when they meet on May 26 and 27. 

In Canada, 12 organizations have signed the statement including the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Lung Association, the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).   

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that “climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” said Dr. Courtney Howard, emergency room physician in Yellowknife and Board Member of CAPE. “The WHO estimates that climate change will claim the lives of 250,000 people each year by 2030 unless we take dramatic steps to reduce emissions today.”

Canada can be a global leader on this issue, building on momentum from the provinces.  Ontario no longer burns coal for electricity and Alberta intends to follow suit by 2030.  Accelerating the transition away from coal creates immediate health benefits: the avoided health impacts from Ontario’s phase-out alone are valued at approximately $3 billion per year.

“We want our leaders to understand that they can produce significant air pollution health benefits in their home countries by phasing out coal plants,” said Ian Culbert, Executive Director of the CPHA.  “The air pollution from coal plants has been clearly linked to increases in heart disease, strokes, lung diseases including lung cancer, and asthma symptoms.” 

“Ontario’s six coal plants produced approximately 600 premature deaths and 900 hospital admissions each year back in 2005” said Kim Perrotta, Executive Director CAPE.  “With their phase-out, levels of air pollution in Ontario have declined dramatically along with air pollution-related health impacts.”  

“In Alberta, the phase-out of 18 coal-fired generators is expected to produce health benefits worth about $300 million per year,” offered Dr. Joe Vipond, emergency room physician in Calgary and CAPE member.  “Imagine what we could achieve if we phased out the 16 coal-fired generators in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan as well”.

A copy of the Global Health Statement on Coal Plants is available here: https://cape.ca/global-health-statement-on-coal-plants/

CAPE Media Release, Toronto, May 18, 2016