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Hamilton’s air quality made progress over last two decades: report

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The City of Hamilton has made progress in terms of improving overall air quality since 1996, but there is much work yet to be done, according to a new report from Clean Air Hamilton.

Bruce Newbold, chair of Clean Air Hamilton, told the local Board of Health meeting last week that, “overall, the message is good” from the network of air quality monitoring stations across Hamilton.

“We also need the tools to drill down closer to look at what is happening in places of the city,” he said at the virtual meeting.  “As you see, the news continues to be good within the city in terms of reduction criteria for air pollutants.”

The city does, however, have variations in air quality within its own limits. For instance, the west end has actually seen an increase in respirable particulate matter, also referred to as PM2.5.

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Overall, Newbold noted that while vehicles have made some improvements that reduce their environmental impact, the sheer increase in the number of vehicles within the city has countered those innovations.

“Transportation remains that critical piece in terms of improving air quality,” Newbold stated.

Sulphur dioxide has also trended downward for the most part, but continues to be above the city’s annual objective, particularly in the industrial centre, where there has been a slight increase for Industrial Site 1.

This pollution is generally a byproduct of industrial processes and burning of fossil fuels. It is also the main cause of acid rain. Hamilton has not met its objective of keeping these levels at 4 ppb, which is much higher than a number of other neighbouring Ontario municipalities such as Windsor, Sarnia and Toronto.

“It probably reflects the mix of industry that we have within the city and the location of industry within the city compared to some of these other locations,” Newbold explained.

Nitrogen dioxide has also trended downward. These levels can often be attributed to combustion activities, said Newbold.

Benzene and benzopyrene, both carcinogenic pollutants associated with industry, are seeing declines within Hamilton over the last two decades, but remain above Ontario Ministry of Conservation and Parks’ objectives.

Ozone levels, a pollutant that results from chemical reactions in the atmosphere, have remained steady.

The new data shows that Hamilton has experienced a decline in overall suspended particulate matter over the last two decades.

In 2020, Hamilton did not experience any Special Air Quality Statements or Smog and Air Health Advisory instances.

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