Why Hamilton has had zero smog days in 2014

Cooler, wet weather this summer in Hamilton has helped keep smog days at bay, though environmental advocates caution that more localized pollution is still causing problems.

No official smog advisories issued across Ontario so far this year

Despite lower pollution on average across Hamilton, environmental advocates say there are still more localized pollution impacts near the city's industrial core, like its U.S. Steel plant. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Breathing easier this summer?

A summer free of smog days will do that.

Along with no 30-degree days yet this summer, Hamilton hasn’t had any days warranting official smog warnings yet in 2014.

Neither has anywhere else in Ontario, for the first time in the province’s data stretching back to 2003

"In a province used to seeing 20-25 days with smog, we’ve had none,” said Dave Phillips, a climatologist at Environment Canada.

“Last year even with a kind of normal summer there were only two smog days (in Hamilton),” he said. “But in 2012 there were 18 of those suckers. It was unhealthy."

Local air quality consultant Denis Corr said the region has made “amazing advances” over the past three decades.

But he cautioned the dearth of smog days could be more of a fluke from that cooler weather than anything.

“Even though part of a welcome long-term trend to reduce air pollution, one would not expect this to continue,” Corr said. “It could go completely the other way next summer, unfortunately.”

Cooler, wet days are not the conditions that typically create dense smog. One significant air pollutant, ozone, is a result of existing chemicals in the air reacting with sunlight. Without as much sunlight, there’s tends to be less ozone in the air, Corr said.

The cooler temperatures “haven’t been able to cook the chemicals,” Phillips said.

Weather aside, a few factors may be contributing to the drop in smog days, said Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton.

The province has shifted in recent years away from coal-fired power plants. And Lukasik said she wonders if there have been some changes south of the border, where pollution floating in from the Ohio Valley has caused significant issues in Hamilton in the past.

“We’re all sort of surprised at what’s going on,” she said. 

But she said the zero smog days belies the daily air some Hamilton residents breathe.

“Despite the fact that we are seeing these wonderful improvements at a higher level, that doesn’t eliminate the need to monitor very localized air quality impacts closer to the industrial core,” she said. “You sort of have to think about both.”

Indeed, Hamilton shouldn’t let its guard down in light of the zero smog days this year, Corr said.

“The fact is we still have 180 deaths every year, and 2,000 deaths every year in Toronto,” Corr said.

“We’re making gains, but we have to keep doing better and better.”


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