City’s Environmental Master Plan is troubling

It is difficult to share City council’s enthusiasm for the Environmental Master Plan; Red Deer Express, April 20; Environmental Master Plan Adopted for City; when the City’s air quality will be assessed by monitoring only a few simple chemicals — ozone, sulphur and nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. This very basic monitoring is designed to track vehicle pollution and will not identify the localized concentration of complex chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects, such as formaldehyde, benzene and polycyclic compounds, typically found in wood burning areas.

Fine particulates (smoke) will also be monitored in one or two locations but this is also not an effective way of identifying wood smoke pollution as a wood burning fireplace, or worse still — a wood stove; can expose neighbours to life threatening levels of fine particulates without the particulates even reaching a monitoring unit. Canadian and American municipalities that have relied on this very basic monitoring have found that a problem is only recognized when the air is heavily polluted by wood smoke and at this stage local politicians realize that wood burning is so entrenched that it is politically difficult or even impossible to remedy the situation.

Basic monitoring does not identify the source of pollutants or trends in the relative significance of pollution sources. By contrast, the Americans by identifying the sources of fine particulates and carcinogens noted the growing significance of the wood combustion component as early as 1975 and realized that wood burning was going to be North America’s most significant urban pollution problem and one that would cost the health care system billions of dollars.

Monitoring is not really needed as there are centuries of historical data identifying wood and later coal smoke as a cause of deaths from smoke inhalation and the diseases that today we associate with cigarette smoking. The French and British responded to the threat to urban residents, decades ago, by establishing smoke-free subdivisions and smoke free cities. Common sense is all that is needed to realize that it is not a good idea to walk into a problem that the Europeans have spent millions of dollars to correct.

None of this information was given to residents, who provided input to the City’s Environmental Master Plan, nor were we told that Canadian municipalities, that care for the urban environment, such as Montreal, Golden, Amhurst, and Hampstead, have already banned the further introduction of log burning fireplaces, stoves and fire pits. The Environmental Master Plan may well have included these measures had residents been told that residential wood burning has become a threat to the health of Canadians from coast to coast.

The future looks grim for life in Red Deer unless similar measures are adopted here!

A separate study is needed to compile the smoke-free initiatives already in place in more environmentally-conscious cities in Canada, the U.S. and around the world and determine which initiatives would be acceptable to residents.

Alan Smith

Canadian Clean Air Alliance