Ontario’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan Is Far from Adequate

Above: Darlington Nuclear Station on the shore of Lake Ontario, via Óðinn

Nuclear energy provides as much as fifty percent of Ontario’s electricity. It is extremely expensive, produces radioactive waste for which there is no safe disposal or storage, and carries the risk of catastrophic accident (far more serious in Ontario than anywhere else in the world due to our reactors’ proximity to a large population and source of drinking water). Ontario’s nuclear emergency plan is outdated and inadequate.

This summer, the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will be hearing the public’s comments on proposed changes to the province’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan. This is an excellent opportunity for health professionals to voice concerns about the safety of the nuclear industry in Ontario, and its emergency response plan in particular.

Pickering Nuclear Station, via ilker

Historically, there has been a major nuclear accident every decade since the 1970s. The most recent one occurred in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 when 400,000 residents living 50 kilometres from the Fukushima reactors were evacuated. Half of Ontarians, and one in six Canadians, live within 60 kilometres of Darlington and Pickering nuclear stations, which is why Ontario needs a robust and detailed emergency response plan.

The tragic disaster in Fukushima demonstrated the critical importance of a strong nuclear emergency plan, the value in having clear measures in place to deal with immediate mass health issues among workers and citizens, and the importance of monitoring to prevent long term health effects. International reports and Japanese officials have stated that none of these conditions were adequately in place in Japan prior to the Fukushima accident. Japanese authorities increased permissible dose limits so that workers’ and citizens’ doses would remain in the “acceptable” range. Many important issues had not been addressed as part of an emergency plan, such as knowledge of emergency responders of decontamination methods, adequate transportation of contaminated patients to hospitals, capacity of local hospitals to deal with incoming patients from hospitals within the primary zone that had to be evacuated, malfunctioning of water and electricity supplies in these hospitals, emergency lodging facilities, and secure food supplies.

In Ontario, we believe the current nuclear emergency plan should be designed to respond to a nuclear accident of the same severity as Fukushima. Instead, the Plan is designed for an accident several times less severe. It does not address the needs of vulnerable populations such as the elderly, hospital patients, and children. Nor are there measures in place for training health professionals to deal with large numbers of contaminated patients who would arrive at clinics and hospitals.

Ontario’s nuclear reactors, which are some of the oldest in the world, are all adjacent to the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for tens of millions of Canadians and Americans. Large quantities of radionuclides would flow into the Great Lakes in the case of a catastrophic accident, and despite the large volume of water, this could affect safety of the drinking water of millions of residents. An adequate emergency plan must include the provision of clean drinking water for the tens of millions of people presently reliant on the Great Lakes.

Aerial view of Pickering Nuclear Station on the shore of Lake Ontario, via Joe Mabel

Public awareness needs to be improved regarding instructions to follow in the case of a nuclear accident as well. For example, iodine pills, which should be ingested within four hours of radiation exposure and preferably before exposure if possible, are needed to prevent thyroid cancer. In Ontario, they are pre-distributed to residents living within a 10 kilometre radius of the reactors. The pills are available to people living within a 50 kilometre radius but most people are unaware of this important preventative measure. Ontario should consider pre-distribution of pills to all residents living within at least 20 kilometers of a nuclear reactor, in keeping with international best practices, as is the case in New Brunswick for the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor.

In order for Ontario to be ready for a major nuclear disaster, an emergency plan should be implemented that is based on a Fukushima-level accident, that includes training and preparation of emergency responders and health professionals, clear communication with the public on an ongoing basis, adequate pre-distribution of iodine pills, and a plan to provide sufficient clean drinking water to the tens of millions of residents reliant on the Great Lakes for their water.

CAPE urges the Ontario government to create a detailed, comprehensive, and transparent emergency plan to protect the health of Ontarians in the case of a catastrophic Fukushima-level nuclear accident.

 

Prepared by Dr. Cathy Vakil, CAPE Board Member, June 2017

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A National Cycling Strategy: A Triple Win for Public Health

On June 1, 2017, CAPE participated in the National Bike Summit organized by Canada Bikes where we declared our support for the development of a National Cycling Strategy. Here is why.

A National Cycling Strategy would be a triple win for public health. It would help us to reduce the rate of chronic diseases in Canada. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are escalating at alarming rates across the country. They place a heavy burden on the health care system while also producing pain, disability, and premature deaths for hundreds of thousands of Canadians each year. For example, cardiovascular disease alone costs $12 billion each year in Canada.

Physical activity is one of the most effective “treatments” for chronic diseases. We know that one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week can reduce the risk of premature death by 4 to 9%. And yet, most Canadian do not get the 2.5 hours of physical activity required to maintain good health. Time—or the lack of it—has been identified as the number one barrier to physical activity.

Active modes of transportation—such as cycling—overcome this barrier. They allow people to get the “exercise” they need while travelling to work or school. One study found that people who cycle or walk to work reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease by 11%. But we know that most people, particularly women and children, will not ride to school or work unless cycling routes feel safe. Experience in other jurisdictions has demonstrated that many people will cycle for travel if they have protected bike lanes that look and feel safe.

A National Cycling Strategy would reduce acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution. In 2008, the CMA estimated that air pollution produces 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada. We know these deaths are the tip of the iceberg. They represent a broad array of adverse health impacts including lung cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease. The CMA estimated that air pollution costs Canadians $10 billion per year in direct health care costs and lost time, and that was based on a limited number of health impacts for which the evidence was the strongest.

The transportation sector is one of the most significant sources of air pollution in Canada, particularly in large urban centres and along major traffic corridors. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce air pollution, adverse health impacts, and health care costs by getting residents to use their bikes, instead of their cars, for short trips.

A National Cycling Strategy would also reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called climate change the most significant public health threat of the 21st century. It has estimated that 250,000 people will die prematurely each year by 2030 from climate change unless dramatic action is taken to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Climate change is already claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people each year from heat stress, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. Many of the victims are children and the elderly living in some of the poorest countries in the world. While Canadians will not experience the worst of these impacts, we are not be immune to the impacts of climate change.

Already, in Canada, we are experiencing health impacts from wild fires, floods droughts, heat waves, and severe storms that are increasing in frequency and intensity; from insect-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease that are spreading as the climate warms; and from injuries and deaths resulting from melting permafrost and shifting snow cover. The transportation sector in Canada is responsible for about one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce these emissions by getting people to replace short car trips with bike trips.

A National Cycling Strategy is the holy grail of public health; the public policy the serves many public health goals with one investment. It is an investment that will pay for itself many times over in health care savings alone.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, CAPE Executive Director, June 2017

Read more:

Canada Bike’s National Cycling Strategy

Prescribing Active Travel for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: A Toolkit for Health Professionals

CEPA Review: A Chance to Reduce Human Suffering & Health Care Costs

On May 29th, the newly created Coalition for Action on Toxics held an event on Parliament Hill to draw attention to the changes needed to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to ensure that it protects Canadians from highly toxic substances.

This new coalition—which is housed by Tides Canada, and includes EcoJustice, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, and CAPE—wants decision-makers to understand what changes are needed and how important they are.

“As a palliative care physician, I have spent too much of my career caring for people who are dying prematurely from diseases caused by toxic substances,” offered Dr. Jean Zigby, President of CAPE. “Our environmental regulations must be strengthened to prevent these avoidable deaths and diseases.”

These toxic exposures are costly to society in financial terms as well as human terms. One study published in The Lancet in 2016 estimated that toxic substances that disrupt the endocrine system alone cost the United States $340 billion per year in health care costs and lost wages (Attina et al., 2016). This figure represents 2.33% of the GDP!

CEPA, the backbone of environmental laws federally, has not been revised since 1999. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which has been consulting the public on the revisions needed to CEPA since the fall of 2016, is expected to release its report in the coming weeks.

The coalition has identified a number of key priorities that must be addressed if human health and the environment are to be properly protected from toxics in the environment and in consumer products. We believe that CEPA should be revised to:

  • Reverse the burden of proof for substances for highly toxic substances so that industry must prove that they are safe to use;
  • Require assessment of alternatives and make it mandatory to substitute highly toxic substances with less hazardous substances;
  • Increase protection for populations that are particularly vulnerable to toxic substances such as children;
  • Require risk assessments that consider exposures from different sources and from different substances and products;
  • Create national air quality standards that are health protective, legally binding, and enforceable;
  • Strengthen timelines to ensure that risk management options are assessed and implemented in an expeditious manner;
  • Improve enforcement and provide the funds needed to properly enforce;
  • Extend the right to know to consumers with mandatory labelling of toxic substances;
  • Ensure that the chemicals are re-assessed in response to new scientific evidence, regulatory action in other jurisdictions, or public concerns; and
  • Improve the review and approval process for new substances to make it truly protective of human health and the environment and transparent.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prevent chronic diseases in Canada, reduce health care costs, and protect the environment. Click here and let your Member of Parliament (MP) know that this is an important issue to you.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, May 30, 2017

Reference:

Attina, Teresa M et al. “Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis.” The Lancet Disease and Endocrinology. Vol. 4. No. 12. December 2016.

CAPE Calls for Moratorium on Fracking in B.C.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has been a hot topic of conversation in British Columbia for several years now, but many people still don’t realize that the vast majority of LNG will be coming from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) projects. Because of that, it is important to take a look at the emerging research around fracking as we debate LNG.

Technological developments in the fracking industry have outpaced health and environmental research. We are only now starting to get studies that tell us about the health impacts associated with fracking. The information is still preliminary, but overwhelmingly raises red flags for health. One study, which looked at all the health-oriented research on fracking, found that 80% of all studies had been done between 2013 and 2015. Of the ones that looked at public health outcomes, 84% identified potential problems.

Preliminary studies on the human health effects of fracking have identified concerns with the hormone-disrupting properties of fracking fluids and their potential for reproductive and developmental toxicity, increased asthma rates, and congenital heart disease with greater proximity to natural gas development.

Development can bring new jobs to a community, but it can also bring an influx of male workers. A recent report has shown that this may increase violence against Indigenous women and girls in northeastern B.C.

Very few studies have examined longer-term health outcomes with longer latency periods such as cancer or developmental outcomes. To quote a review of the literature: “This is a clear gap in the scientific knowledge that requires urgent attention.”

Additionally, even the single Pacific Northwest LNG project and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with it will make it virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its 2050 greenhouse gas emissions targets. Given that the World Health Organization has identified climate change as the greatest health threat of the 21st century, failure to meet greenhouse gas targets must be viewed as a risk to human health.

In the face of incomplete information, the best approach is to act in accordance with the precautionary principle. As stated by the World Health Organization: “in the case of serious or irreversible threats to the health of humans or the ecosystem, acknowledged scientific uncertainty should not be used as a reason to postpone preventive measures.” CAPE Doctors in B.C. believe that this approach should be applied to fracking in B.C.

Both the New Brunswick and Newfoundland/Labrador chapters of the College of Family Physicians of Canada have urged fracking moratoria in those provinces in the interest of public health. Over 180 physicians and health professionals recently signed a letter asking that no new projects which increase the level of hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia, or in Canada as a whole, go ahead until the health risks are understood, communicated to communities, and mitigated.

Let the candidates in your riding know that you are concerned about the health impacts associated with fracking and LNG in B.C.: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/who-s-running-in-the-2017-british-columbia-election-1.3786771

If you would like to see public health protected by a moratorium on further fracking projects in B.C., please click here to add your name to our petition.

Prepared by Dr. Courtney Howard and Dr. Larry Barzelai, B.C. CAPE Volunteer Committee, April 18, 2017

 

Join us in Vancouver on Friday April 28th for a discussion panel about the health impacts of fracking featuring environmental scientist Judi Krzyzanowski, PhD, Dene environmental activist and lawyer Caleb Behn, and CAPE board members Dr. Courtney Howard and Dr. Warren Bell.
Click here for more information and free registration.

Coal Plants have a Significant Impact on Air Quality and Health: Incomplete Facts Don’t Change the Truth

It is a sad statement of our times that in the middle of an important public health debate, the National Post has printed a commentary that muddies the water with incomplete facts and misleading information about coal plants, air pollution and human health (Warren Kindzierski, They keep saying shutting down coal will make us healthier, so how come there’s no evidence of it? February 24, 2017).

Coal Plants and Air Pollution

Kindzierski maintains that coal plants are not a major contributor of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the air pollutant that has been most clearly and consistently linked to chronic heart and lung diseases as well as acute health impacts. Kindzierski refers readers to several of his own studies, one of which contains a graph (posted above) that identifies coal combustion (the mustard yellow bar) as a small contributor of ultra fine particles in Alberta’s air (Md. Anul Bari et al., 2015). He fails to explain however, that coal plants are one the most significant sources of sulphur dioxide (SO2), the gaseous air pollutant that is transformed in the air into secondary sulphate (the large brown bar).

Secondary sulphate, as illustrated by the author’s own graph, is the most significant source of ultra fine particles, the most worrisome portion of PM2.5. In 2014, coal-fired power plants were responsible for 40% of the SO2 emitted in all of Alberta and 60% of the SO2 emitted in the Edmonton Region (Pembina 2016a). In other words, coal plants were the largest source of SO2 that is transformed into the secondary sulphates that contribute most significantly to air levels of ultra fine particles and PM2.5 in Alberta.

Air Pollution and Human Health

Kindzierski then goes on to challenge the view that air pollutants other than PM2.5 and ground level ozone are harmful to human health, and even calls into question the health evidence associated with PM2.5. Thousands of studies have been directed at the acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution over several decades. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reassessed the health literature on air pollution and found, among many other things, stronger evidence that short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of mortality and morbidity particularly for cardiovascular effects; stronger evidence that short-term exposures to ozone can have negative effects on a range of pulmonary and vascular health-relevant end-points; new evidence that short- and long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can increase the risk of morbidity and mortality, mainly for respiratory outcomes; and additional evidence that exposure to SO2 may contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and morbidity and asthma symptoms in children (WHO, 2013). These findings are well known and well accepted by public health, environmental, and medical professionals around the world.

Coal Plants, Air Pollution and Human Health

In 2012, using the Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool (AQBAT) developed by Health Canada, Environment Canada estimated that improved air quality resulting from the current coal regulations would prevent approximately 994 premature deaths and 860 hospital admissions or emergency room visits between 2015 and 2035 (Environment Canada, 2013). These avoided health outcomes were valued at $4.9 billion. In 2016, the Pembina Institute extrapolated these results to determine the additional health benefits associated with a 2030 coal plant phase-out in Canada. It found that a 2030 phase-out date would nearly double the health benefits associated with the existing coal regulations, preventing an additional 1,008 premature deaths and 871 hospital admissions or emergency room visits between 2015 and 2035. These additional health benefits were valued at nearly $5 billion (Pembina 2016b).

It is clear to us: a 2030 Canada-wide phase-out of coal-fired power plants is a public policy that will produce many direct public health benefits for Canadian while simultaneously helping us to meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, March 7, 2017

Neonics – It’s Bigger than the Bees

Neonics, Bees & Food Security

Neonicotinoid pesticides or “neonics” are the group of pesticides that came to public attention several years ago when beekeepers began reporting alarmingly high rates of bee colony losses. Ontario beekeepers, for example, reported losing 58% of their bee colonies over the winter of 2013 and 38% over the winter of 2014 (1). While there is ample evidence linking neonics to bee colony losses, this issue is bigger than the bees.

When an international group of independent scientists, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, reviewed over 1100 peer reviewed scientific articles, they found that neonics are extremely toxic to most insects, spiders and crustaceans; moderately toxic to birds and fish; persistent so they can accumulate to hazardous levels in the soil; water soluble so they can run off into streams and lakes and leach into ground water; linked to large-scale acute losses of domestic honeybee colonies; and associated with impaired learning, increased mortality, reduced fecundity, and increased susceptibility to disease in bees. The Task Force concluded that neonics are potentially harmful to ecosystem services, such as pollination, that are vital to food security and sustainable development (3).

When public health researchers conducted a study to determine how people around the world might be affected by the total loss of animal pollinators, such as bees, they estimated that global fruit supplies would decrease by 23%, vegetables by 16%, and nuts and seeds by 22%. They predicted that these changes in food supplies could increase global deaths from chronic and nutrition-related diseases by 1.42 million people per year (4).

Regulatory Actions

Moved by the threat that neonics pose to the honey industry in Ontario, which is worth about $26 million per year, and to agricultural crops in Ontario that depend upon pollination, which is worth about $897 million per year, the Ontario Government moved decisively (2). In July 2015, Ontario passed regulations that aimed to reduce the number of acres planted with neonic-treated corn or soybean seed by 80% by 2017 (2). In so doing, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to restrict the use of neonics. The regulations targeted the three neonic pesticides used most extensively in Ontario: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. Newly released data indicates that neonic-treated corn and soybean seeds were used on about 3 million acres of crop land in Ontario in 2016—down by almost 1 million acres from 2014 (6). While this is substantial reduction—about 24%—it is long way from the 80% reduction that will be required by the regulations by the end of this year.

In November 2016, Health Canada proposed a new decision for the neonic pesticide imidacloprid based on a reevaluation of the science. This decision, which is open for public consultation until March 23, 2017, proposes the phase-out of all the agricultural and the majority of outdoor uses of imidacloprid over three to five years. This decision was based on Health Canada’s findings that this pesticide is being measured in aquatic environments at levels that are harmful to aquatic insects that are a food source for fish, birds, and other animals. Let Health Canada know that you support the phase-out of imidacloprid, but want to see them move faster to protect the ecosystem from neonics. You can review the consultation document here and provide feedback here.

For more information on neonics, see CAPE’s Factsheet or CAPE’s Backgrounder

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 21, 2017

References:

  1. Health Canada. Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health. 2015; 20p. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/alt_formats/pdf/pubs/pest/_fact-fiche/neonicotinoid/neonicotinoid-fra.pdf
  2. Ontario Government. 2014. Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario; 2014; pp 21p. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/pollinator/discuss-paper.htm
  3. Van Lexmond, M. B.; Bonmatin, J.-M.; Goulson, D.; Noome, D. A., Worldwide integrated assessment on systemic pesticides. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 2015, 22, (1), 1-4 http://www.tfsp.info/worldwide-integrated-assessment/
  4. Smith, M R; Singh, G M; Mozaffarian, D; Myers, S S. Effects of decreases of animal pollinators on human nutrition and global health: a modelling analysis. The Lancet, 2015, 386, (10007), 1964-1972. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)61085-6/abstract
  5. The European Food Safety Authority. EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity. Press Release. December 17 2013. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/131217
  6. Ontario Government. Neonic Regulations for Seed Vendors.  January 2017.  https://www.ontario.ca/page/neonicotinoid-regulations-seed-vendors
  7. Health Canada. Proposed Re-evaluation Decision. Imidacloprid. November 23, 2016. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/part/consultations/_prvd2016-20/prvd2016-20-eng.php

Ontario’s Coal Plant Phase-out Produced Many Health and Environmental Benefits

On January 17, 2017, industry think-tank the Fraser Institute released a new report, Did the Coal Phase-out Reduce Ontario Air Pollution? which suggests that coal plants across Canada should not be phased out based on its assertion that Ontario’s phase-out did not significantly reduce air pollution (Fraser Institute, 2017). This report includes a number of statements about pollution, health care benefits, and coal plants that are incorrect or misleading.

The Fraser report focuses on the air pollution benefits of the Ontario coal plant phase-out while ignoring the many co-benefits associated with this action. In 2002, the five coal-fired power plants in Ontario were responsible for

  • nearly one quarter (23%) of the sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions and one seventh (14%) of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in Ontario that contributed to air pollution and acid rain,
  • nearly one quarter (23%) of the airborne mercury emissions which contributed to the contamination of fish with a persistent toxic that is harmful to the brains of humans, and
  • one fifth (20%) of Ontario’s greenhouse gases emissions that were contributing to climate change (OPHA, 2002).
Figure 1: Annual SO2 Emissons by Sector, Ontario (OMOECC)
Figure 1: Annual Emissions of Sulphur Dioxide, Different Sectors, Ontario, 2003-2012 (OMOECC, 2014)

Over the last 20 years, the public health sector, the Ontario Medical Association, environmental organizations, cottagers’ associations, and labour organizations have been outspoken advocates for the phase-out of coal plants in Ontario. All of these groups shared the common view that many health and environmental benefits could be gained simultaneously by closing Ontario’s coal plants.

While there were technologies that could be applied to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from these plants, there was no technology at that time that could eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases. Given the age of Ontario’s coal plants, the availability of combined cycle natural gas plants, the promise of energy efficiency, and renewable technologies, it made more sense economically to accelerate the closure of coal plants than to re-invest in them.

Figure 2: annual air levels of sulfur dioxide in Ontario, 2004-2013
Figure 2: Annual Air Levels of Sulphur Dioxide, Selected Sites, Ontario, 2004-2013 (OMOECC, 2014)

The Fraser report and press release suggest that coal plants are not a major contributor of fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—the air pollutant that has been mostly clearly linked to chronic health impacts such as heart disease and lung cancer, and one of two air pollutants responsible for most of the smog alerts that used to be common in Ontario. This is simply not true.

Coal plants emit significant quantities of SO2 and substantial quantities of NOx. Both are gaseous air pollutants that can harm human health directly. When they enter the atmosphere, they can be transformed into sulphates and nitrates—acid particles that contribute to air levels of PM2.5. In fact, this secondary PM2.5 is the major culprit behind high levels of PM2.5 measured in many airsheds and is often more hazardous for human health than other forms of PM2.5 (RIAS, 2011). This PM2.5 does not, however, show up in emission inventories for PM2.5.

The Fraser Institute suggests that Ontario’s coal phase-out had little impact on emissions and air quality. This is misleading. Between 2003 and 2012, SO2 emissions from coal plants were reduced by about 140,000 tonnes (see Figure 1). During that same period, annual air levels of SO2 across Ontario declined by nearly 50% (see Figure 2) and annual air levels of PM2.5 declined by about 25% (see Figure 3) (OMOECC, 2014). While the improvements in air levels of SO2 and PM2.5 cannot be attributed solely to the closure of coal plants, their closure was an important contributor to reductions in air levels.

Figure 3: annual air levels of fine particulate matter in Ontario, 2004-2013
Figure 3: Annual Air Levels of Fine Particulate Matter, Selected Sites, Ontario 2004-2013 (OMOECC, 2014)

Air quality is impacted by multiple sources of pollution. The actions to reduce air pollution are intentionally broad-based because the improvements are cumulative. Coal plants are an efficient target for emission reductions because they are stationary sources that emit large volumes of air pollutants. They are also a significant source of air toxics such as mercury and greenhouse gases.

Air pollution is also a transboundary issue. Emissions of SO2 and NOx from coal plants in the U.S. have a significant impact on Ontario’s air quality, while emissions from Ontario’s coal plants have a substantial impact on air quality in Quebec, Vermont and New York (Yap et al., 2005). In recognition of this reality, Canada and the United States committed in 1991 to take action on both sides of the border with the Canada-US Air Quality Agreement. This agreement has proven very successful. Emissions and air quality on both sides of the border have improved because of cooperation between the two countries (Canada-US, 2014).

In 2005, Ontario estimated the contribution of coal plants to air pollution across Ontario and the adverse health impacts associated with that contribution. Because coal plants release air pollutants so high in the air, the pollutants are dispersed over long distances. The impact, therefore, on any one airshed is relatively small, but the impact overall on human health can be significant because so many people can be affected. Using methodologies that were well-accepted in other jurisdictions, Ontario estimated that air pollution from its  coal plants were responsible for over 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1000 emergency room visits, each year, in Ontario. These health impacts were valued at $3 billion per year (OMOE, 2005).

The Fraser report suggests that the $3 billion in health benefits estimated cannot be accurate because it represents too great a percentage of Ontario’s health care budget. This statement reflects a misunderstanding about the health benefits estimated in 2005. The $3 billion per year in health benefits reflect the value of the many lives that are shortened by air pollution, as well as health care costs. They do not reflect health care costs alone. The 2005 report is clear about this point.

 An independent assessment conducted by Toronto Public Health in 2014 suggests that improvements in Ontario’s air quality have translated into significant health benefits for Ontario residents. Toronto Public Health found that improvements in Toronto’s air quality from 2000 to 2011 have reduced air pollution-related premature deaths by 23% (from 1,700 to 1,300 per year) and hospital admissions by 41% (from 6,000 to 3,550 per year) in Toronto alone.  It attributes the improvements in air quality to a variety of policies implemented by different levels of government including the phase-out of coal plants by Ontario (TPH, 2014).

With the evidence of catastrophic climate change mounting daily, the need to modernize Canada’s electricity sector has never been more clear. With the costs of renewable technologies dropping, the opportunity to transform our economy has never been greater. CAPE stands by its position. We believe that the phase-out of coal plants in Alberta and across Canada is an economically prudent decision that will improve the health of Canadians while taking the steps needed to address climate change.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE

References:

  • Canada-US, 2014. Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement Progress
  • Fraser Institute.  (2017). Did the Coal Phase-out Reduce Ontario Air Pollution? Prepared by Ross McKitrick and Elmira Aliakbari.
  • Ontario Ministry of Energy (OMOE).  2005. Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation. Prepared by DSS Management Consultants Inc. RWDI Air Inc. April, 2005
  • Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (OMOECC). 2014. Air Quality in Ontario 2013 Report.
  • Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA). 2002. Beyond Coal: Power, Public Health and the Environment
  • Regulatory Impact Assessment Study (RIAS). 2011.  Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-Fired Generation of Electricity Regulations.
  • Toronto Public Health (TPH). 2014. Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness Update. Technical Report.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP Project.
  • Yap, David, Neville Reid, Gary De Brou, and Robert Bloxam. 2005. Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario 2005. Queen’s Printer.