Thursday, January 30, 2003
Windsor, Ontario

I appreciate very much your invitation to speak to the Chamber's annual environmental breakfast on the current state of Windsor's Air Quality. Your invitation flyer says I am speaking on, "Windsor's Dirty Air." To respond to your request I will put before you the latest information about this subject provided me by the expert staff of the Windsor regional office of the IJC and its director, Dr. Gail Krantzberg.

I will try to tell you, in spite of the complexity of the subject, and the gaps in our knowledge about it, what is known and what is not known, and in the light of this information - or its absence, what could or should be done, and by whom.

Now some of the language is technical, but here goes and please bear with me!

The Commission has been examining Windsor air quality for many years. IJC reports from 1966 to 1984 found that significant results or improvements had been achieved during that period.

The Commission also determined that substantial reductions in the inputs and concentrations of larger particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, and odours had occurred, indicating the decline of these specific pollutants in Windsor's air. Much of this improvement was due to the elimination of coal fired power generation facilities, such as the J. Clark Keith Generating Station in West Windsor, and the substitution of natural gas for coal in other generating facilities, such as the Ford Power Plant at the foot of Drouillard Road and the Conners Creek facility in East Detroit.

In the latter part of that period, during the 1970's, emission controls were introduced for automobiles in the U.S. and Canada, and this action, along with the eventual elimination of lead from gasoline by both Federal governments also had an immediate and significant positive impact on our air quality. However, in our airshed, ozone pollution still remained a central concern.

The Commission report of January 19, 1984, while noting the reductions in emissions and ambient concentrations of three pollutants (particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and odours), stated that a review of a wider range of pollutants, particularly toxic and hazardous substances would be necessary in the region.

In the 1984 report, the Commission also considered other air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The Commission noted that concentrations of ground level ozone, a pollutant formed largely during the summer months by the reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds under sunny conditions, repeatedly reached levels in excess of the prevailing Canadian federal guideline of 82 parts per billion over one-hour. This level, as too many of you know, causes immediate and longer-term health effects, including shortness of breath, lung irritation, and, for those with weakened respiratory systems, significant distress often requiring medical attention. The majority of our excess ozone comes largely from Detroit and other U.S. sources of the parent contaminants hundreds of miles upwind. On-road vehicles (cars and trucks) account for a third of nitrogen oxide emissions, while total transportation (including ships, airplanes, construction equipment and off-road vehicles in addition to cars and trucks) is the source for half of the nitrogen oxide. The sources of the rest of the nitrogen oxide vary between the United States and Canada. In the U.S., electricity generation by coal and natural gas fired stations accounts for approximately one third of emissions of this pollutant; while in Canada, electrical generation is the source for only 10% and the balance is from petroleum processing and refining and other industrial sources.

Thirty percent of emissions of man-made volatile organic compounds or VOCs are associated with transportation activities, while general solvent use accounts for 25%; residential uses and products and surface coating operations are the sources for much of the balance.

Smog is made up of ozone and fine particulate matter. This second pollutant, fine particulate matter, has effects similar to ozone on the respiratory system and a relationship has been recently shown with incidents of lung cancer.

Unfortunately, smog advisories and alerts have become an all too common feature of our recent summer months.

There are many contributing factors to a smog incident. As mentioned earlier, because of prevailing wind patterns, transport of ozone and its precursors, along with fine particulate, frequently occurs in a corridor from Greater Chicago, through Detroit and Windsor and continuing through Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City.

Much of this fine particulate comes from combustion sources that include transportation, power generation and industrial facilities such as aggregate processing, casting plants and foundries.

As I noted earlier, improvement in automobiles and their fuels have resulted in very substantial emission reductions from individual automobiles in the past few decades. However, both the number of vehicles and the distance traveled by each of them have increased markedly, cancelling out much of these improvements.

We are all too aware that heavy truck traffic at the Detroit-Windsor border, principally the Ambassador Bridge, is the highest of any border crossing point in North America. It typically exceeds 10,000 trucks a day (24-hour period); for the year 2002, a total of 3.3 million trucks crossed the border at the bridge.

Diesel-powered vehicles, both moving or idling in long lines or parked while running due to gridlock, are a source of the fine particulate matter I referred to earlier as a major contributor to the respiratory distress experienced by many of the people of Windsor. In addition, these particles have been determined to be "a probable human carcinogen" by the California Air Resources Board. Further, as reported in studies by U.S. and Canadian researchers - both academics and government scientists - presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association, these particles are associated with lung cancer and heart disease among residents of highly polluted areas.

I believe that the exact impact of current diesel emissions on residents of this community, especially those living in both new and established neighbourhoods adjacent to Highway 401/ the Highway 3/Talbot Rd. extension and Huron Church Road, must be further determined. I believe further that this concern must be one of the major considerations in the study of new or additional truck routes now underway.

The possibility of a linkage between the pollutants in our air and the elevated incidence of cancer had earlier been examined by the Commission. The Commission convened the International Air Pollution Advisory Board for the Detroit-Windsor/Port Huron-Sarnia Regions. This Board analysed available information on the emissions and concentrations of selected hazardous air pollutants in the two areas and reported their findings to the Commission in December 1990.

The Board used a risk assessment process to try and determine the possible or potential health effect of the presence of specific hazardous air pollutants, including common solvents such as benzene, xylene and formaldehyde, on human health. Specifically, the Board used a process outlined in the 1990 U.S. Clean Air Act to calculate the number of cases of cancer that could arise from the presence of these pollutants in our air. This calculated risk was compared to the benchmark of one in a million population lifetime risk established in the Clean Air Act. The Board concluded that the calculated risk of cancer associated with these contaminants in the two regions was significantly higher than the one-in-a-million lifetime benchmark.

Let me stress that this was a theoretical calculated risk and not a definitive conclusion. The process did not and could not actively link specific incidences of cancer in particular individuals to the presence of given quantities of particular contaminants in our airshed.

So in its 1992 report to the Governments, based on the Board's work, the Commission concluded that

  1. "the ambient concentrations of the examined airborne toxics in the regions were similar to other urban centers of comparable size and industrial development;" and
  2. "sufficient information exists on airborne toxic chemicals in the region to conclude that there is a significant health issue which requires the immediate implementation of additional air emission abatement and preventive measures;" and further
  3. "a lack of ambient air monitoring data, emissions inventories and health related studies ...... make it difficult to analyse the potential human health and environmental effects of many toxic chemicals."

The main response to this report came from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment in its support for a $1 million Windsor Air Quality Study. In their report, the Ministry determined that, in addition to breathing outdoor air, people could be exposed to some of these substances from sources within the home, as well as on the job site. Unfortunately, provincial support for the study was not continued after 1996 and the locally-based control strategy that was begun in response to the findings was never completed.

What is the current situation regarding Windsor's air quality and what can we collectively do about it?

With respect to smog and ozone, Windsor residents continue to suffer from repeated elevated daily levels of smog and ozone, particularly in the summer months. Between mid-May and the end of September, 2002, according to Ontario MOE guidelines, West Windsor recorded 20 days of poor air quality, reflecting in part the effect of nearby Zug Island area industries. During the same period, central Windsor experienced 18 such days. In comparison, London experience 14 days and one region of Hamilton (Mountain) recorded 13 days of poor air.

This level of air pollution, the highest in the Province, is also the result of the heat and stagnating air masses experienced over that time period. Because weather is such a factor, some of the preceding years did not have the same number of 'poor air' days.

The only cooperative activity currently underway by Michigan and Ontario on this alerts the public of imminent smog days and confirms the extent and severity of the actual incidents. This current monitoring I'm told appears adequate and gives us some warning of these events. However its clear a lot more cooperative effort is needed.

Because more than half of our air pollution problem is imported, our community, like many others in Canada and the United States, needs a bilateral, multi-jurisdictional strategic response.

In the 2002 Progress Report under the Canada - United States Air Quality Agreement, the two governments emphasized their agreement to an Ozone Annex - an agreement that calls for more action against ground level ozone. This includes the development of PEMAs (Pollutant Emission Management Areas), large areas that straddle a good portion of the eastern part of the international boundary and include Windsor. The intent is to jointly manage and co-ordinate air quality improvement measures by officials in the two countries.

However, although the boundaries of the PEMA have been established, I suggest you need to press the governments, to take the many actions outlined in the Annex under the full PEMA program.

Several other commitments for emission reductions have been made under this Annex. These should improve our air quality.

As well, to track progress and report to the public, the Ozone Annex set in place commitments to report the ozone air quality levels from ambient air quality monitors within 500 km of the US-Canada border starting in 2002 and industrial facility emissions in 2004.

The Commission has a role under this Agreement - and that is to invite public comment on their activities under the Agreement as reported every two years by the U.S. and Canadian governments. We are in the midst doing this for the 2002 Progress Report. Comments are due by this coming February 28, 2003. I encourage individuals and organizations like yours to review that document and forward your comments to the Commission.

You can download a copy of the report from our web site at or visit the IJC regional office here in Windsor

A few weeks ago Canada's Environment Minister, David Anderson, and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Todd Whitman, signed an agreement to develop new co-operative pilot projects on air pollution over the next several years. While no specific details of these projects are as yet available, this commitment could be another opportunity to get bilateral action moving on improving Windsor's air.

There has been concern that the recently announced interpretation by the EPA of the New Source Review rules in the 1991 U.S. Clean Air Act, would not appear to lead to a resulting reduction of smog components transported to Canada's air from the U.S.

However, in a letter to the Windsor Star about this, federal Environment Minister David Anderson said recently

"The U.S. New Source Review rule is an issue of concern to Canada since it could have the effect of prolonging the life of old mid-western coal-fired power plants from which pollution flows into eastern Canada. Canada is closely monitoring the US legal challenges and will strongly oppose any action that could lead to an increase in transboundary pollution."

There are a number of other significant and positive developments that hold promise for improving our air quality in the coming years.

Emissions from new cars are to be further reduced by new regulations in the United States and Canada, beginning in the 2004 model year, with for example, an anticipated reduction of 73 percent in nitrogen oxide emissions. This action will be accompanied by a reduction in the sulphur content of gasoline in both countries, further lowering sulphur dioxide emissions from new cars.

U.S. and Canadian regulations on new heavy duty diesel truck engines and fuel should also reduce emissions of fine particulate and other pollutants from heavy duty trucks. Implementation will be in two stages beginning on January 1 2004, with a first phase from 2004 to 2006 but the second and final phase will be from 2007 to 2010.

I also anticipate the further application of new automotive technology. Hybrid cars, which have lower emissions per mile and are more fuel efficient, are entering the market. Further down the road, fuel cell technology holds the promise of a truly 'zero emission' vehicle.

On Monday night U.S. President Bush, in his State of the Union Address proposed $1.2 billion in research funding for the development of hydrogen powered automobiles. And as you know, the Canadian government has invested millions in R&D funding in this area of research toward the development of the Ballard fuel cell technology which when fully commercially viable would result in zero emissions from cars using it.

A majority of the cars and trucks currently on the road in the province has been tested under the Ontario's Drive Clean program. Under Phase Two of the program, vehicles in Windsor have been tested only recently and, on average, emissions have been reduced 6.1%. Further reductions totaling about 10-15% can be anticipated as the rest of the local on-road fleet is tested. There is, as yet, unfortunately no similar program in Metro-Detroit.

However the USEPA recently put a revised ozone standard of 80 parts per billion (ppb), averaged over eight hours, in place. This new standard will be applied in Detroit but its attainment is very likely to be difficult. As a result, we could see further control actions in the Greater Detroit region to reduce air pollution which should improve our air quality. I hope that such actions may include an emissions testing program for cars and trucks in the Greater Detroit area similar to the Ontario Drive Clean Program.

I believe that there is still much more to be done to reduce the negative impact of smog on humans. For example, routine monitoring of fine particulate matter in this region and elsewhere is just beginning and must be extended further to include, in particular, the contribution of diesel trucks, especially those crossing the border.

With respect to hazardous air pollutants, over the past two years, as part of a review under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. federal government and states are sampling for selected hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene in ten urban areas, including Greater Detroit. The data on contaminant levels from the Detroit study and that from an ongoing sampling activity in Windsor should allow comparison to the Commission's earlier analysis - is the situation now better or worse? The benchmark for the hazardous air pollutant study will again be calculated cancer risk.

So I must say based on the guidelines of the Federal and Provincial governments, and the information currently available to me, it is clear that, despite the efforts of industry, institutions, individuals and governments, in Windsor we continue to experience episodes of poor unacceptable air quality. Further, as I've said, the entire impact of poor air quality on the health of the citizens of this community remains to be fully determined.

The fact that certain forms of cancer and other serious diseases are more prevalent in people in this community than in any other urban center in the province was noted in the paper by Michael Gilbertson of the IJC and Jim Brophy, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Health, in December of 2001. While this paper could not conclusively link these diseases to air pollution, they concluded that the presence of various toxic chemicals in our air deserved further investigation.

I welcome the progress being made here in Windsor towards development of a civic action plan to reduce emissions and lessen the impact of smog days - your Jim Drummond has been especially active in this regard.

Curtailing of paving, use of small gasoline engines, the recently approved anti-idling bylaw. I commend those in the private sector who have adopted similar measures and challenge them to continue the development of more such programs in their own facilities and among their workforce. Of course as individuals can also adopt some of these practices.

So a pressing need in my opinion is the development in Windsor of the area's capacity to determine definitively the impact of air and other forms of pollution on the health of its population. It is something I supported when I was still in Parliament.

So I'm impressed with the work of the "exploratory Committee" and its "work group" which lead to the publication last Friday of a "concept paper" calling for the establishment of a "center for environmental health" to be located at the University of Windsor. I'm pleased that two members of the staff of the IJC's Great Lakes Regional Office here in Windsor took part in developing the paper - also I commend the CAW for already offering $100,000 in seed money toward the creation of the center.

I note that the center would be located in the University of Windsor's, new health education and learning center to be opened this coming summer - I understand it also will be the site of Windsor's newly established satellite medical school.

I agree with what Ross Paul, the President of the University said in a recent speech about the creation of such a center.

"The challenge for this important initiative is to develop an institution that is strongly community based, but also finds an appropriate balance between environmental advocacy and activism on the one hand and ensuring that quality and integrity of the related research on the other."

I note the committee proposes the center's mission to be: "to enhance community capacity to provide solutions for the prevention of environmental and occupational illness."

If you look at the "objectives" proposed by the committee for the center you'll see that they provide indirectly one answer to a possible question about whether things are better or worse today than 10 years ago with regard to "Windsor's Polluted Air". It would appear the best answer we can give at this point is that it is better in some ways - but certainly not in others.

That is why one of the objectives of the center proposed by the citizens committee is to "communicate to industry, all levels of Government, and community at large, reliable and credible information to encourage them to adopt appropriate risk reduction practices/processes"

Further progress requires everyone to be on board!

I wish to announce that later this morning I will be meeting with the Committee in the IJC's Boardroom to discuss how I personally, and the IJC can further assist this important initiative.

The Commission's role is mandated by the Boundary Waters' Treaty, which created it, and other agreements, especially the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement which the Commission monitors. It does not manage or fund programs but investigates and reports its findings and recommendations on issues like transboundary air pollution to the U.S. and Canadian governments.

For these recommendations to be implemented and result in meaningful action, public support for action by the two federal governments, the province of Ontario and the relevant states is crucial.

Public support - public opinion - expressed by groups like yours is vital if real progress is to be made resulting in meaningful improvement - building on what has already been done - acting on what remains to be done, in ensuring clean air - doing this for ourselves - but more important for our future generations!

Thank you

News Room         Top of Page