OTTAWA, CANADA (RUSHPRNEWS) AUGUST 22, 2008–A milestone report released last week by the Canadian Medical Association warned that smog-related deaths are set to soar to more than 700,000 in Canada over the next two decades. It also predicted that long- and short-term exposure to air pollution will kill at least 21,000 Canadians this year alone.
Apart from these grim statistics, the report’s findings on the economic cost of bad air are an important wake up call to governments and industry to develop the technologies and other solutions needed to deal with Canada’s worsening air quality management problem.
The CMA report, No Breathing Room: National Illness Costs of Air Pollution documents the effects of poor air quality based on the concentrations of two highly predictive pollutants – ozone and particulate matter – on four distinct age groups of Canadians. Specific findings of the report include:
By 2031, almost 90,000 Canadians will have died from the acute short-term effects of air pollution. The number of deaths, due to long-term exposure, will be over 700,000 – the population of Quebec City.
In 2008, 80% of those who die due to air pollution will be over age 65.
In 2008, 25 Canadians under age 19 will die from the effects of short-term exposure to air pollution.
Ontario and Quebec residents are the worst hit Canadians, with 70% of the national total of premature deaths occurring in Central Canada even though these two provinces comprise only 62% of Canada’s population.
In 2008 there will be over 9,000 hospital visits, 30,000 emergency department visits and 620,000 doctor office visits due to air pollution.
The economic costs of air pollution in 2008 in Canada will top $8 billion. By 2031, they will have accumulated to over $250 billion.
The study uses the best available knowledge and data on air quality, human health and economics to produce accurate forecasts of health impacts and expected costs related to changes in air quality. Its findings are based on a software model first developed by the Ontario Medical Association, a tool that has been validated by a panel of international experts on health and the environment.
‘This report shows for the first time the tragic effects of the toxic air that we breathe, whether it is in my hometown of Vancouver, or across the country in St. John’s,’ said CMA President Dr. Brian Day.
Dr. Day noted that the survey’s simple message is that the health and economic impacts of air pollution are already significant and are only going to worsen in the future. ‘Essentially we’ve provided a roadmap for policy-makers about where we stand in terms of air quality,’ said Day, ‘and they can choose one of two routes: act now to improve air quality, or reap the consequences by failing to do so.’
From an environmental business perspective, the most important message emerging from the report is that the costs of not doing enough to improve air quality will over time be far greater than the costs required to act now. Apart from the toll of human suffering, the economic costs of air pollution could exceed $250 billion by 2031.
While the precision of estimates of this magnitude and duration are tenuous, the message is clear: spending even a small fraction of this amount for the development of new technologies that control or eliminate particulate-heavy emissions will have a major impact on the health of Canadians, particularly those who are at high risk.
The federal government has a number of initiatives underway to help fund development and deployment of technologies to deal with air pollution. But much more is required if the CMA conclusions are to be believed.
One of the government’s goal is for reductions in air pollutant emissions that cause smog and acid rain by up to 55% as early as 2012. (See Action on Climate Change and Air Pollution) reaching this goal will require national caps for industrial emissions of four air pollutants commonly associated with smog and acid rain, namely nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. Caps will also be required for other air pollutants such as mercury from electricity produced by combustion, and benzene emissions from the natural gas, and iron and steel sectors.
But so far, only the base elements of the national emissions control regulatory regime and carbon trading scheme are in place, neither of which will fully address the problem.
There are no quick technology fixes for this problem – no silver bullet or miracle cure. Real change will require policy and regulatory controls that actually reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air we breath.
Tougher national standards and more concerted actions to shut down coal and other fossil fuel burning emissions-intensive power plants on both sides of the border are part of the answer as well.
Governments in Canada are on the right track, but much more is required if we are to prevent or lower the smog related deaths predicted in the CMA report.
If nothing more, the CMA report should serve as a signal to industry and government of the urgent need for better coordination and for more funding to find solutions to this growing economic and environmental health problem.