Canada

Less smog due to U.S. downturn: scientists

Some government scientists say the economic downturn in the U.S. may have had a silver lining for Canadian air quality.

Some government scientists say the economic downturn in the U.S. may have had a silver lining for Canadian air quality. 

Reduced economic activity south of the border appears to have reduced the amount of smog over central Canada, and that situation may well be permanent.

On May 31, as forest fires raged 300 kilometres away in Quebec, Simon Green, who suffers from pulmonary disease, was in Ottawa having one of his toughest days ever.

"Feel like I'm suffocating. One of the things I'm having trouble with is talking. For me it uses a lot of oxygen," Green told CBC News.

A smog advisory was put in place that lasted two days. But then, that was it. The rest of the summer came and went with no more smog advisories.

"There was only one two-day smog warning this year and that was related to the fires in Quebec," said David Miller, Ottawa's manager of environmental sustainability. "Smog has been significantly down over the last couple of years."

In 2005, Ottawa spent 26 days under smog advisories, all of them caused by pollution.

In 2009 the air was also unusually clean, but scientists said cool rainy weather helped reduce smog. This year though, that explanation doesn't apply since most parts of the country experienced a hot, humid summer.

David Yap, Ontario's senior scientific adviser on air quality, said it's now clear there's simply less pollution being emitted in the U.S. Midwest and Ohio Valley.

"Reduced industrial production and emissions due to the economic slowdown — that reflects in improved air quality locally," Yap said.

Scientists credit cleaner cars and better government regulations, as well as the idle factories of Michigan and Ohio.

Moreover, they said the improving trend is likely to continue, as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama gets set to tighten the national smog standard by another 13 per cent.