Tougher pol­lu­tion model eyed for Hamil­ton

Com­bined im­pact of emis­sions mea­sured

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DON­GEN The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

The prov­ince is float­ing tougher air pol­lu­tion stan­dards for Hamil­ton to rec­og­nize the com­bined ef­fect of in­dus­trial emis­sions — par­tic­u­larly, high lev­els of can­cer-caus­ing chem­i­cals like ben­zene.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates have long lob­bied the prov­ince to reg­u­late lo­cal in­dus­trial emis­sions based on cu­mu­la­tive im­pact rather than via in­di­vid­ual fac­tory lim­its. On­tario’s en­vi­ron­ment com­mis­sioner called for such reg­u­la­tion in Hamil­ton as far back as 2008.

Now, a new pol­icy posted on­line for feed­back pro­poses forc­ing new or ex­pand­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to do more to con­trol emis­sions if they are lo­cated in newly mapped-out “pol­lu­tion hotspots” in in­dus­try-heavy Hamil­ton or Sar­nia.

In Hamil­ton, the hotspots are in or around the in­dus­trial cen­tral and east city, in­clud­ing what ap­pear to be some res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods like the beach strip.

“The frame­work is ex­cel­lent, as long as we keep mov­ing for­ward,” said out­go­ing Clean Air Hamil­ton chair De­nis Corr, who noted the pro­posed new rules will ini­tially ap­ply to con­cen­tra­tions of only two chem­i­cals: ben­zene and benzo(a)pyrene.

He ac­knowl­edged those chem­i­cals are “scary” be­cause they are known to cause can­cer.

But Corr ar­gued “over­all risk” to res­i­dents is higher from the com­bined im­pact of all pol­lu­tants, like par­tic­u­late, ni­tro­gen ox­ide and sul­phur diox­ide.

“We need to keep ap­ply­ing this process to other pol­lu­tants,” said Corr, who has tested for those con­tam­i­nants at street-level in sev­eral Hamil­ton neigh­bour­hoods.

En­vi­ron­ment Hamil­ton head Lynda Lukasik agreed, also not­ing the new pol­icy won’t force change on ex­ist­ing in­dus­trial plants un­less they ex­pand.

“It’s good that they’re pub­licly rec­og­niz­ing our airshed is al­ready over­taxed with con­tam­i­nants and that they’re mov­ing away from stack-by-stack reg­u­la­tion,” she said. “But we’ve got a whole mess of stuff that gets re­leased into our air in Hamil­ton. The hope would be this is just the start­ing point.”

The Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change’s on­line ex­pla­na­tion of the pro­posal says “multi-source mod­el­ling” used to eval­u­ate pol­lu­tant con­cen­tra­tions in sev­eral ci­ties iden­ti­fied ben­zene and benzo(a)pyrene as “the two most sig­nif­i­cant car­cino­gens,” par­tic­u­larly in Hamil­ton-Burling­ton and Sar­nia’s chem­i­cal val­ley.

(A ci­ti­zen En­vi­ron­men­tal Bill of Rights ap­pli­ca­tion from 2014 also re­quested a “pol­lu­tion hot spot” study specif­i­cally for the two ci­ties.)

Ben­zene is emit­ted by a va­ri­ety of in­dus­tries as well as in ve­hi­cle ex­haust; benzo(a) pyrene is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with coke-mak­ing for steel as well as coal tar man­u­fac­ture.

Data posted along with the pol­icy pro­posal shows av­er­age an­nual air con­cen­tra­tions of benzo(a)pyrene in 2014 ex­ceeded the prov­ince’s tar­get level for ac­cept­able health risk in sev­eral lo­ca­tions in Hamil­ton.

That in­cludes 100 times the ac­cept­able am­bi­ent air qual­ity cri­te­ria (AAQC) at a mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion on East­port Drive, the high­est level recorded across On­tario. (AAQC refers to the con­cen­tra­tion of a con­tam­i­nant in air considered ac­cept­able to pro­tect hu­man health or the en­vi­ron­ment.)

Hamil­ton also ac­counts for 70 per cent of all benzo(a)pyrene emis­sions re­ported by On­tario plants via the Na­tional Pol­lu­tant Re­lease In­ven­tory. For ben­zene, it’s 38 per cent.

The new pol­icy would re­quire es­ca­lat­ing “man­age­ment ac­tions” by new or ex­pand­ing com­pa­nies based on how bad the cu­mu­la­tive pol­lu­tion is in par­tic­u­lar ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas.

For ex­am­ple, pol­lu­tant con­cen­tra­tions considered slightly higher than ac­cept­able might sim­ply trig­ger ex­tra mon­i­tor­ing. But fac­to­ries seek­ing to set up or ex­pand in ar­eas with the worst air qual­ity could be re­quired to in­vest in par­tic­u­lar pol­lu­tion con­trol tech­nol­ogy.

Mea­sur­ing cu­mu­la­tive pol­lu­tion im­pact isn’t easy, as the city it­self has found. Pub­lic health set out to cre­ate a Hamil­ton-spe­cific “airshed model” in 2014, but more than two years later, the model is still be­ing tweaked.

Coun­cil­lors for the two-chem­i­cal “hot spot” ar­eas said the chang­ing pol­icy is wel­come — if late — but en­force­ment is key.

“We’ve rec­og­nized for a long time we live in a com­pro­mised airshed. But we are lim­ited in what we can do about it as a city,” said Chad Collins, who along with ward neigh­bours Sam Merulla and Matthew Green vo­cally op­posed a re­cent trash-to-gas plant pro­posal on the har­bour be­cause of air qual­ity con­cerns.

“The bot­tom line is the rules have to mean some­thing,” added Merulla, who pointed to on­go­ing res­i­dent frus­tra­tions with steel in­dus­try pol­lu­tion burps and fall­out. “If you don’t en­force, the changes are mean­ing­less.”

The pub­lic has un­til Feb.7 to com­ment on the prov­ince’s new pro­posal.

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