Effective local air quality monitoring is missing

A letter to the editor in The Observer

Sir: Recent articles in The Observer remind us again we have a very long ways to go to reduce the air pollution in Sarnia -Lambton to improve air quality.

When people like Dean Edwardson, spokesperson for a local industry lobby group says “we continue to make improvements to the operations locally”, the implication is that our local air quality is getting better.

If that is the case, then why did the recently-released Ontario 2009 Air Quality Report show Sarnia has the dirtiest air in Ontario while the rest of the province improves?

The fact is our local dirty air has been directly linked to hospital admission rates for respiratory illness in a 2007 study.

These pollution levels result in more health problems. For example, the harmful effects of diesel fumes are well known and studies continue to show these fumes cause chronic lung diseases and provoke asthmas attacks.

Furthermore, a recent McMaster study indicates prolonged exposure to

pollutants in vehicle fumes and industrial pollution more than doubles the risk of seniors being hospitalized for pneumonia.

So given this situation has been known for a long time by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, you would think there would be effective local air quality monitoring so that there is a basis for determining what and where specific improvements to our air quality are required.

But the fact is there are only two air monitoring stations in this entire area -one in Centennial Park and one in Grand Bend. No wonder a recent strong sulfur dioxide odour noticed by the public near the chemical valley has not yet been traced to a source by the Ministry of Environment.

The time for long-term meaningful action on these known air quality problems is long overdue. Sarnia-Lambton needs a community program to improve air quality similar to the one initiated by Hamilton in 1998. Just look at the 2009 Clean Air Hamilton Progress Report at http://www.cleanair.hamilton.cato see what is possible.

The endless delays and discussion concerning a POSSIBLE local Health Study is a waste of time and money. The air quality problems and the health problems they cause are known. It’s time to get on with the solutions. Such solutions will mean better health for our citizens as well as an improved perception of Sarnia-Lambton.

It is clear to me given the above and the fact there has never been a long-term community program in place to deal with the known air quality problems here, there is no real will by the Ontario government, Ministry of Environment and the County of Lambton to improve local air quality.

There seems to be no problem spending $9 million on a new art gallery that will benefit relatively few in our community. In the meantime, many in our community have and will continue to pay the price for the failure of the Ontario government and Lambton County to initiate a long term plan with the cooperation and financial assistance of local industries that improves the air we all breathe.

Robert Swift

Point Edward

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