Edmonton’s air at times 25% dirtier than Toronto’s: report

WATCH ABOVE: A report is out that claims, at times, Edmonton’s air quality has been 25 per cent worse than in Toronto. Margeaux Morin takes a closer look.

EDMONTON – A report issued this week by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, or CAPE, suggests that air quality in Edmonton has been, at times, 25 per cent worse than that of Toronto’s – a city five times Edmonton’s size.

The report looks to data released by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, which shows that air pollutants exceeded acceptable levels for the province on a number of occasions.  When they tested Edmonton Central and Edmonton East from 2008 to 2012, the particulates exceeded level four, on the four-level scale. On one event, particulates surpassed 35 micrograms per cubic metre in Edmonton, while Toronto was seeing only 17.

Cheryl Feldstein suffers from severe asthma, and says “it’s quite frightening when you can’t breathe; honestly, it’s the scariest feeling in the world.”

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She has asthma attacks when air quality becomes poor, and unless she takes precautions like staying indoors whenever air quality becomes poor, her quality of life is reduced drastically. Feldstein isn’t the only one calling for more action from the government.

CAPE says there is no amount of safe exposure to pollutants, and that the amount of pollutants in Edmonton’s air is cause for alarm.

Dr. Joe Vipold is an emergency physician at the Peter Lougheed Medical Centre in Calgary, and also a member of CAPE. He says that “refinery row” to the east of Edmonton, and coal burning plants to the west, are big contributors to the city’s poor air quality.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but over 60 per cent of Alberta’s electricity comes from coal, and 12 of the 16 plants sit directly west of Edmonton.”

His organization is calling on the Alberta government to take more action on particulate reduction, especially those resulting from combustion activities that consist of “sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide particles that combine with other chemicals in the atmosphere” to create fine particulate matter that is harmful to humans when inhaled.

But, critics of the CAPE report say that its statistics are not sound, as they have failed to adjust their data for naturally occurring events like the wildfires that caused a spike in airborne particulates back in 2010.

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Dr. Warren Kindzierski with the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta noted that “if you take out the 2010 data just to see how biased their report was, you tend to see much lower levels”.

“It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”

However, even after Kindzierski’s team adjusted the data for bias – Edmonton’s ambient air particulates measured in the downtown core is still severe enough to be a level three out of four.

While the Alberta government’s action plan to reduce air particulates is in motion, both CAPE and Feldstein say that is simply not enough. They are asking the government to come up with more specific targeted plans for the reduction.

With files from Natasha Belyea.