Nova Scotia Both Pollution Perpetrator And Victim

By Darren Yourk
Globe and Mail Update
Globe and Mail
Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004

Ronald Colman, left, executive director of GPI Atlantic, and senior researcher Anne Monette field questions after releasing a study on air quality in Halifax on Wednesday.

Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP

When it comes to transborder air pollution, Nova Scotia gives as good as it gets, a new report says.

The 250-page report, released Wednesday by the non-profit research organization GPI Atlantic, confirmed the long-held belief that problems in the province's air quality are largely the result of pollution in central Canada and the Northeastern United States. It also found, however, that the province's per capita sulphur oxide emissions a major contributor to acid rain are twice as high as the Canadian level and 2.6 times the levels in the United States.

"We are major polluters...We're perpetrators as much as we're victims," senior researcher and environmental scientist Anne Monette said.

"Generally when air pollution is discussed in Nova Scotia and eastern Canada, it is discussed in terms of how much pollution makes its way into the province from other jurisdictions as opposed to discussing the actual emissions from inside the province."

The study found that Nova Scotia alone accounts for a quarter of the sulphur dioxide pumped into the air in all of Canada, owing to the continued reliance on huge amounts of coal to be burned in generating electric power.

The province's power generation emits sulphur dioxide at a annual 145-kilogram-per-capita clip, more than eight times the national average and 1.35 times more than the next closest province (Saskatchewan).

GPI Atlantic says that electric power generation alone accounted for between $208-million and $1.6-billion in damage attributable to 2002 pollutant emissions equal to between 39 and 50 per cent of all air-pollution damage caused by all of the province's emission sources.

Ms. Monette told on Wednesday that those numbers show a need to explore using natural gas for electric power generation as a stop-gap measure.

"I don't necessarily agree with using another non-renewable resource, but in the short term, natural gas burns cleaner and produces less emissions than coal or oil," she said. "Looking toward the future, we really should be investigating renewable sources of energy such as wind power."

The report also found that in the summer of 2001, Nova Scotians seeking refuge from ground-level ozone pollution were better off in downtown Halifax than in Kejimkujik National Park, where ozone levels have been as high as 2.33 times the maximum acceptable concentration.

Continuing high ground-level ozone concentrations have been linked to such health problems as bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia and emphysema.

That same year, downtown Halifax recorded the highest annual average sulphur dioxide concentration of any commercial centre in the country between two and 12 times the levels measured in Canada's other major cities.

"I'm hoping people will take more notice and realize that the average individual can influence the amount of air pollutants that they are responsible for emitting," Ms. Monette said. "We suggest positive steps in the report that individuals can take to reduce their own emissions, most notably household energy conservation and greener transportation."

Ms. Monette also reports that Nova Scotia's lakes have been slower to recover from the effects of acid rain than those in Ontario, Newfoundland and Quebec.

"In Eastern Canada, the basic geological formations don't have a natural alkalinity which can buffer acid deposition like in Western Canada," she said. "The lakes, rivers and wetlands here are far more sensitive to acid rain."

"With transboundary air pollution, we've seen emissions that have been reduced significantly over the last 30 years, but the fact is that the reductions just aren't enough to protect the particularly sensitive ecosystems in Eastern Canada. "

On the positive side, GPI Atlantic found that there have been some significant improvements to the air quality both in Nova Scotia and across Canada since the 1970s.

In Halifax, carbon monoxide levels are 63 per cent lower than 25 years ago, particulate matter concentrations are down 50 per cent, sulphur dioxide levels are down 90 per cent and nitrogen dioxide levels are down by 20 per cent.

The GPI report marks the first assessment of Nova Scotia's air quality to be released at the provincial level in nearly six years. The provincial government has abandoned its State of the Environment reporting.

"A provincial level look at air quality could provide some useful insights and an annual report would be great," Ms. Monette said. "The fact is we haven't had a report on the state of the environment since 1998. That's a significant amount of time in my opinion."