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Oxford Health Matters report on air quality, health and wood burning

April, 2017

The first Oxford Health Matters reportAir Quality, Health & Wood Burning, found that overall, nearly all residents in Oxford County feel that local air quality is very good or good.

At the same time, the survey found that only one-third of Oxford County residents are familiar with Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), and that few check the Index or change their outdoor activities if the rating is high. Almost half of parents of children under 12 do not check the Air Quality Health Index when planning their children’s activities.

The focus on air quality as one of the early Oxford Health Matters reports stems from Public Health’s commitment to address local air quality issues under the Beachville Area Air Quality Assessment Action Plan.

Read more about the Air Quality, Health & Wood Burning report.

 

Beachville area air quality community update  

March 2017

Background

The Beachville area air quality assessment has been ongoing since June, 2014 in response to community concerns about air quality stemming from quarry operations.

The assessment was led by Oxford County Public Health in partnership with Public Health Ontario, the University of Guelph and in consultation with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).

A series of public meetings were held to gather information from the community and report back on progress on the air quality assessment.

A final report was shared with the community in April 2016 with a commitment to continue to provide updates on air monitoring results and other initiatives aimed at improving air quality.

The following is an update to the community on what has been happening since the last meeting on April 28, 2016.

Particulate sampling results - Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)

Analysis of four monitoring locations in the Beachville air shed has been completed for the August 2014 – December 2015 period. The results show:

  1. A declining trend for Suspended Particulate concentrations from historical averages.
  2. Both historical and current results indicate concentrations are generally below Ambient Air Quality Criteria (AAQC).
  3. Very low concentration of metals with no exceedances of AAQC.

Mobile air monitoring results - Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)

The Ministry conducted mobile air monitoring from August 2016 - December 2016 in the Beachville and Ingersoll area.

A cargo style van with air monitoring equipment was able to collect real-time particulate matter at various locations. The mobile monitoring was conducted twice per month at four locations. The results showed values that are much lower than the 24-hour Ambient Air Quality Criteria (AAQC) and were similar to results from the Beachville Area Air Quality Assessment Final Report.

As a result, mobile air monitoring will not continue in 2017.

Oxford County Public Health initiatives

Independent air monitoring

Oxford County Public Health continues to monitor the air in areas surrounding Beachville, Ingersoll and Zorra. DustTrak monitors collected results in five locations from June – October 2016. Those results will have been shared with the property owners by the end of March 2017 and a summary of those results will be published in the next community update.

Surveillance forms & journals

An outdoor air quality surveillance form was created for the area Public Health Inspector to use when driving around areas where there are quarry operations. These forms are also being used by residents who are hosting air monitoring on their property. The form can also be used by residents to record accounts of dust events on a complaint basis.

Residents with air quality concerns have been given journals and are encouraged to take photos and submit to Oxford County Public Health if they experience dust events.

Ongoing dialogue with industry

Discussions have been held with quarry operators to try and resolve issues that may be causing dust events including:

  • Discussions with transportation firms regarding proper loading and unloading to minimize dust
  • Ensure road sweepers are using a wet solution to minimize dust
  • Solutions to preventing trucks from stopping on the gravel shoulder of roads to clean trucks, take breaks, etc.

Next steps

1. Continue air monitoring - MOECC is continuing local sampling at four locations. In addition, a fifth monitor which samples particulate matter less than 10 microns, has been added at one of the existing locations. Oxford County Public Health will continue air monitoring in the spring and summer of 2017 and will share results and analysis in future updates to the community.

2. Inspections & dialogue - MOECC is continuing regular inspections of the Beachville area industries and working with the companies, where necessary, to improve local air quality. Public Health to continue discussions with quarry operators to work towards improvements in air quality.

Resources

Beachville area air quality community update - March 2017 (PDF)

MOECC Beachville memo to Oxford Public Health - Sept. 29, 2016 (PDF)

Beachville Memo to Public Health - March 2017 (PDF)

Beachville mobile air monitoring summary 2016 (Excel spreadsheet) 

Air quality in your community

Public Health maintains partnerships with members of the community, the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and Public Health Ontario in identifying and studying air quality issues in Oxford County. Public Health also provides air quality education to the public, responds to complaints and advocates for healthy public policy.

The air around us is made up of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%) and small amounts of other gases. Both natural and human activities release gases that cause an imbalance in the air. These releases are called air pollutants. 

People exposed to high enough levels of certain air pollutants may experience: 

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and breathing difficulties
  • Worsening of existing lung and heart problems, such as asthma
  • Increased risk of heart attack  

In addition, long-term exposure to air pollution can cause cancer and damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive and respiratory systems. In extreme cases, it can even cause death. While air pollution can affect everyone's health, infants, children and older adults are more vulnerable to the effects.

Types of air pollutants

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colourless, ordourless, and tasteless gas. It is a by-product of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. In Ontario, the main sources of CO emissions come from road vehicles and other forms of transportation. When CO is inhaled, it enters the blood stream and reduces our bloods ability to carry oxygen to our tissues and organs. Exposure to high levels of CO has been associated with impaired vision, headache, dizziness, weakness, confusion and may also lead to death. 

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is a colourless gas, but unlike carbon monoxide, has an odour of burnt matches. In Ontario, the main source of SO2 emissions comes from utility and smelting industries. When SO2 is inhaled. it can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat and can result in various respiratory symptoms and conditions including asthma. Exposure to high concentration of SO2 can cause death.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a reddish-brown gas with a strong, irritating odour. NO2 is a major product of all combustion and plays a big role in the production of ground-level ozone. In Ontario, the main sources of NO2 emissions come from road vehicles and other forms of transportation. When NO2 is inhaled, it can irritate the lungs and may lower the resistance to respiratory infections.

Particulate Matter (PM) is a mixture of solid and liquid particles in the air. It can come in a wide variety of sizes including PM10 and PM2.5

  • Inhalable Particulate Matter or PM10 is 10 microns in diameter and less.
  • Respirable Particulate Matter or PM2.5 is 2.5 microns in diameter and less.

In Ontario, the major sources of PM include residential sectors, transportation sectors and industrial processes. Breathing in both PM10 and PM2.5 can cause a variety of health problems including respiratory illness. Since PM2.5 is smaller than PM10, it can travel deeper into our lungs and has the potential to cause more serious health effects. Exposure to PM2.5 has been associated with hospital admissions and premature death.

Ozone (O3) is a colourless and odourless gas that is created when emissions, containing nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, react in the presence of sunlight. Ozone tends to be a problem around cities during hot summer days. When ozone is inhaled, it can irritate the respiratory tract and eyes. Exposure to high levels of ozone has been associated with various respiratory problems including chest tightness, coughing and wheezing. It has also been associated with an increase in hospital admissions and premature death.