Dr. Kindzierski, in his op/ed of Jan 30th (Alberta’s NDP politicians are determined to fix an air-quality problem, but there’s no evidence it exists), asserts that the Alberta government has overreacted to the air quality issues identified in Alberta, and indeed, that there is none. For reference he cites a paper that he himself wrote (with Dr. Bari), in Environmental Science.
A number of assumptions and tautological errors need to be addressed in this piece. The biggest, perhaps, is that government standards are irrelevant, or perhaps worse, fear mongering.
The standards exist because there is strong evidence of significant health impacts with elevated levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). In fact, with PM2.5, there is no level of exposure that is known to be safe. So the air standards, which were developed by the Federal Government in consultation with the provincial governments (and not by the NDP), reflect a balance between the protection of human health and practicality. Indeed, the World Health Organization’s standards are more stringent than the Canadian Wide Standards.
Dr. Kindzierski then asserts that as coal-fired power generation is not a predominant factor in the Red Deer exceedances, the NDP should not be vilifying it. The government, at no point, ever, suggested that coal was the sole issue in the region. Evidence indicates that in addition to coal pollution, vehicle exhaust, agriculture, and oil and gas emissions are also to blame, and all are factors to be addressed. But that is not to say that coal emissions aren’t a contributor to pollution in regions of Alberta.
Finally, the author suggests that the issues are bigger in other centres than in Red Deer. Well, for the years of the government report cited (2011-13) they were much worse than both Calgary and Edmonton, both from an annual average level (11.4 vs. 8.9 (Edmonton) vs. 8.7 (Calgary)), and from a short term peak perspective (30 vs. 25 vs 23). (note the author’s chart is discrepant from government data, for reasons unknown to me). A big reason for recent improvements is the increased focus on programs to reduce multiple sources of air pollution.
We should celebrate that our government is acting on data, rather than trying to excuse it. As further programs are implemented, we should see further improvements to our air, and as a result, further improvements to Albertans’ health.
Dr. Joe Vipond is an Emergency Physician in Calgary, and a
Member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment