International Air Quality Advisory Board
SPECIAL REPORT ON
With the approach of the twenty-first century, the International Air Quality Advisory Board (IAQAB) of the International Joint Commission (IJC) undertook a review of the many issues affecting transboundary air quality along the CanadaUnited States boundary. As an output of that review, this report reflects on several of the issues previously addressed by the Board in its reporting to the Commission and lays out a path for future Board activities.
Since its establishment in 1966, the Board has provided 24 Progress Reports to the Commission on significant transboundary air quality issues. It has also provided other documents on several specialized subjects, including emissions from municipal waste incineration, integrated monitoring, air quality in the DetroitWindsor region, and estimates of persistent toxic deposition to the Great Lakes. This report draws together many of these same issues: the transport, deposition, and impacts of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter, as well as selected persistent toxic substances. It also considers, within a regional context along the boundary where appropriate, related issues regarding binational management, monitoring, modeling, surveillance, harmonization of standard-setting processes, collaboration with other organizations, persistent toxic reduction strategies, and anticipatory concerns about coal-fired utilities, mobile sources, and energy conservation.
In this report, the Board emphasizes again that atmospheric pollutants recognize no border or boundary. It therefore recommends that, to effectively manage atmospheric pollutants (such as ozone), both Canada and the United States must take a similar approach, namely the formation of Transboundary Air Pollution Transport Regions (TAPTRs) spanning the boundary region, and the generation of comparable air quality data through continued monitoring and measurement activities.
In this report, the Board also briefly reviews common pollutants -- sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and ozone -- and the various receptors on which they have an impact. It presents a rationale for nitrogen oxides as the focal criteria pollutant for the next decade. In doing so, it examines the role of nitrogen oxides in acid deposition, regional haze, and the formation of ozone and fine particulate matter; the absence of substantial emission reductions to date and the likelihood of increased emissions in the future; and the dominance of its principal sources, associated primarily with the generation of electricity and transportation.
The Board next outlines the nature of long-range transport of persistent toxic substances, their deposition and resuspension in the atmosphere, and the scientific needs that must be met if significant sources and source regions are to be identified and controlled. These needs include further research on the physical-chemical properties of these substances and the grasshopper effect; continued monitoring; further development of emission inventories; and modeling to more precisely link sources and receptors on a regional, continental and, in some cases, global basis.
The Board also considers the issue of monitoring and modeling, and, based on data from the Lake Michigan Mass Balance and other studies, emphasizes the need to:
The Board then reviews several crucial air quality issues in five regions along the CanadaUnited States boundary: ArcticFar North, Pacific, MountainPrairie, Great LakesOntario, and Eastern. In the ArcticFar North, the Board suggests that the focus should remain on monitoring bioaccumulation and the effects of persistent toxic substances in native populations. Priorities for the Pacific region are programs to further reduce ozone in the Georgia Basin and enhanced monitoring of ozone and other common pollutants on both sides of the boundary area. In the MountainPrairie region, continued and extended scrutiny of the ecosystem effects of sulfate deposition and monitoring of these impacts on forests should be emphasized.
In the Great LakesOntario region, in addition to air quality concerns associated with fine particulate and ozone, the focus should be on identifying and quantifying sources of persistent toxic substances, particularly from urban areas, while considering the Great Lakes themselves as sources (via the grasshopper and cold condensation effects). The Eastern (or Atlantic) region would benefit from a further emphasis on monitoring and mass balance, and from continuing development of binational regional strategies for ozone and other pollutants.
In the section on harmonization of standards, the Board revisits its often-stated position in favor of identical standards for common air pollutants in the United States and Canada. Recognizing that this may not occur in the near term, however, the Board advocates binational cooperation in developing a common base of scientific knowledge and formal consultation toward a common interpretation of scientific data for the development of individual standards.
The Board encourages collaboration by the Commission and itself with other organizations, including the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which are also engaged in multilateral air quality surveillance and management issues for many of the same contaminants.
In addressing surveillance issues, the Board also notes the need for continued consideration of fine particulate in the Eastern region and for continuous review of the effects of air pollution on various human health and ecological endpoints. At the same time, it emphasizes the limitations and inadequacies of simple emissions trading to solve local and regional air quality concerns.
The Board looks at a number of anticipatory issues and focuses on emissions from the electrical generation and the mobile source sectors. It notes the recent release of two studies by the U.S. EPA (the Mercury Study Report to Congress and the Study of Hazardous Air Pollutant Emissions from Electric Utility Steam Generating Units) and the active discussion concerning sulfur content in gasoline in both countries. The Board further notes that the U.S. EPA utility study discusses concerns similar to those it has raised regarding mercury emissions from coal-fired electrical utilities in the Board's response to U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) consideration of deregulation of electrical utilities.
Recognizing that these sectors will require further controls and preventative steps if air quality is to be improved and maintained, the Board plans to continue to assess these and other documents to determine appropriate objectives. It also emphasizes a preventative approach to limit the releases of selected persistent toxic substances from all sectors into the environment. The Board notes that unless such preventative steps are taken, atmospheric emissions of mercury, for example, are likely to increase.
With regard to the sulfur content of gasoline, the Board has advocated, and the Commission recommended to the governments, the establishment of a standard of 30 ppm annual average, with a maximum of 80 ppm, for sulfur content in gasoline throughout both countries, preferably by the year 2001 and no later than 2005.
Finally, the Board offers a summary of its current activities under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement priorities for 1997-1999 on persistent toxic substances as well as its other initiatives -- tracking sources, transboundary movement, deposition and effects of acid gases (particularly nitrogen oxides), ozone, and particulate matter.
This special report and the issues contained herein identify a number of the major transboundary air pollution issues for the next decade. The Board will continue to track these issues and elaborate on them, with the focus of its work being rooted in the transboundary air quality studies identified in the Commission's October 1997 report to the governments, "The IJC and the 21st Century."