Opinion: We all want to breathe clean, healthy air

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Opinion: We all want to breathe clean, healthy air
Environment: Metro Vancouver working to fight smog

By Malcolm Brodie, Special to the Vancouver Sun

Photograph by: Ian Lindsay , PNG
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay , PNG With Metro Vancouver’s population expected to grow by a million people by 2040 — bringing a sharp increase in population density — more will need to be done to fight air pollution in the near future.
On July 13, Metro Vancouver issued an air quality advisory after ground-level ozone readings exceeded targets in the eastern parts of the region. The advisory was lifted two days later, but this short-term smog event underscores the importance of Metro Vancouver’s efforts to reduce air pollution.

Smog includes ground-level ozone and fine particle haze and is not emitted directly — it forms when pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds interact in sunlight (which is why we get more smog when it’s sunny and hot.)

Nitrogen oxides are released when fuels are burned for transportation or heating. In our region by far the biggest sources are cars, trucks, ships and non-road vehicles like bulldozers.

Volatile organic compounds are released from chemicals in paints and varnishes, from fossil fuel refining, storage and burning, and from agricultural activities. The famed new car smell, the smell of gasoline and adhesive smells are classic examples of volatile organic compounds.

Metro Vancouver has collaborated with the Fraser Valley Regional District, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and other authorities on a regional ground-level ozone strategy, which builds on the successful programs that have already significantly reduced the number and severity of ozone episodes compared to two decades ago.

Children, seniors and people with lung, respiratory or heart illnesses are most likely to be harmed by high concentrations of ground-level ozone, a powerful lung irritant. All communities in the Lower Fraser Valley airshed want good air quality, and air quality professionals, elected officials and others should work together to care for our air.

Metro Vancouver’s population is expected to grow by one million people by 2040. If we don’t take action, this will mean more cars, more trucks and more smog. We all want to breathe easy, and the No. 1 thing to do is to reduce transportation emissions. Less driving will help keep the air clean for everyone, every day. We can all do our part, and Metro Vancouver is approaching this issue in a number of ways.

First of all, our regional growth strategy emphasizes urban centres where people can live, work, shop and play without needing to drive. In support of this vision, mayors from the region are also pushing for an extensive and efficient public transportation network.

Next, Metro Vancouver has established and is enforcing strict bylaws that prevent diesel pollution from non-road vehicles. Reducing diesel pollution from trucks, construction equipment, marine vessels and trains is essential because diesel soot contributes to smog and is responsible for two-thirds of the lifetime cancer risk from exposure to air pollution.

We’re also working to accelerate the adoption of low-to-zero-emission electric vehicles by partnering with the province of British Columbia and local businesses to establish a reliable network of electric vehicle chargers.

Finally, we’re advancing responsible waste management that will result in reduced quantities of waste generated and increased waste diversion, while recovering energy from waste in a way that minimizes air pollutant emissions.

Some people suggest that waste-to-energy facilities are a significant source of air pollution, but the facts don’t support that. Our existing facility emits less than one per cent of smog-forming pollutants in the region, and that number will soon drop to less than half that level thanks to ongoing upgrades. The emissions for pollutants such as dioxins, furans, heavy metals, fine particles and others are even lower — hundredths or thousandths of a per cent of regional totals, emissions so low that they are at the limit of being able to be detected at all. Put simply, waste-to-energy causes minute impacts on regional air quality.

Both Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley residents share the Lower Fraser Valley airshed. We all want clean and healthy air and I hope everyone who cares about our air will continue working together, toward the common goal of improving air quality with effective programs that identify and reduce the main sources of air pollution.