Egan: They'd like to clear the air — pollution in Ottawa is slowly killing us

By Kelly Egan, Ottawa Citizen, December 2, 2020

Air pollution, according to expert estimates, will lead to more premature deaths in Ottawa this year than COVID-19.

The one problem we’ve attacked with historic lockdowns and massive societal shifts, the other with a suspicious silence.

On a rainy day on the edge of the 417, Jake Cole pulls a little white box out of a shopping bag and plugs it into a battery. It begins, almost instantly, to read the air quality by detecting particulate matter and harmful substances like nitrogen dioxide.

Cole, 71, a retired engineer, is a Sierra Club volunteer working in partnership with Ecology Ottawa to take air quality readings at strategic spots across the city, especially those close to schools, daycares and seniors residences.

(...)Ecology Ottawa, meanwhile, was taking a more systematic approach. It enlisted some 150 volunteers to take readings at 21 sites across the city, focusing on locations that serve vulnerable populations: daycares, schools and seniors residences. Then it took readings at 21 alternative sites that were near the originals but further from busy traffic areas.

While it is still finalizing the results, climate change organizer Emilie Grenier says on 55 per cent of all monitoring days in August and September, the pollution levels were “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” according to ingestion guidelines from the World Health Organization.

(...)“We have this idea that Ottawa has good air quality,” said Grenier (and generally, it does). But the Ontario government’s two monitoring stations “don’t pick up the bad air inhaled by a kid walking beside a school bus.

“If one breath out of 10 is exhaust-pipe gas, that is worrisome.” She hopes the group’s results will help inform the city’s decision-making process when it comes to siting daycares, schools or health facilities.

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