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Change in the air for region - Fewer smog alerts herald progress

By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star, August 2, 2011

With only six smog alert days so far this year, Windsor’s air quality has shown major improvements from the record 46 we experienced in 2005.

There were 10 smog days for all of 2010, according to the Ontario Ministry of Environment.

Some factors behind the improvement include the declining manufacturing sector in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest, elimination of coal-fired plants and unusual wind patterns, environmentalists said.

“Our region’s air quality has been slowly improving and that is partly due to grassroots efforts to improve pollution prevention and air quality standards on both sides of the border,” said Derek Coronado, co-ordinator for the Citizens Environment Alliance, which on Tuesday kicked off its 10th annual Smogfest.

The event was created a decade ago by the local group to educate the public regarding this region’s poor air quality and its impact on health.

“We knew smog was a serious problem with this area as the gateway for transboundary pollution from the U.S.,” Coronado said. “You can’t ask people to hold their breath.”

But thanks to public pressure and government response on both sides of the border, there continues to be signs of improvement when it comes to smog, he said.

“What we have seen are stricter standards on air quality — especially in the U.S.,” Coronado said.

In Ontario, the story has been around the drive to shut down coal-fired plants, he said.

“There were two more units closed in Nanticoke and two more at Lambton (power generating stations) late last year,” Coronado said.

“A lot of this has happened because of public attention on the issue and putting pressure on politicians. We need that to continue in order to see permanent change.”

He applauded the Ontario government’s push toward renewable energy.

The Energy Ministry on Tuesday announced several measures it hopes will attract more wind and solar industry to the province.

More than 2,000 feed-in-tariff projects have been awarded contracts, representing enough electricity each year to power more than 1.1 million homes, the ministry said.

Since 2009, more than 30 businesses have announced they are setting up or expanding plants in Ontario to manufacture parts for the solar and wind industries. Ontario had only 10 wind turbines in 2003. Today, the province has more than 900 and is home to Canada’s four largest wind farms.

There is a clear trend in Windsor in the reduction of smog days, agreed Kate Jordan, spokeswoman for the Environment Ministry.

“The reason for that is air quality is improving,” she said. “We have seen significant reductions in smog-causing ingredients (in Windsor) such as fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.”

There has been a 27 per cent reduction in particulate and 37 per cent drop in nitrogen oxides locally since 2003, she said.

Jordan pointed to shuttering coal-fired plants, the Drive Clean program for vehicles and stronger standards for air quality on both sides of the border as factors in the improvement.

“Even as the economy rebounds, the air breathing is cleaner,” she said.

There has also been a bit of luck this summer that even with the oppressive heat, the wind patterns have not carried air south from the U.S.

“Weather conditions haven’t been right for smog,” she said. “Despite the heat, the wind direction hasn’t carried that dirtier air in.”

This year’s Smogfest features an environmental art show and silent auction through Aug. 27. The show is at Pop Hair Gallery, 973 Erie St. E. There will be an opening reception at Pop on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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