Feds, provinces set to agree on air pollution deal

Federal and provincial environment ministers are poised to announce a new deal to better control industrial air pollution, including higher standards for the particulates and ground-level ozone that contribute to smog.
The federal and provincial governments are nearing agreement on stronger standards for air quality in an attempt to cut down on smog and air-borne pollution. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Federal and provincial environment ministers are poised to announce a new deal to better control industrial air pollution, The Canadian Press has learned.

Officials from both levels of government have agreed in principle to the air quality deal, which ministers will formalize Thursday in Banff, barring any last-minute objections, multiple sources say.

The deal would see the governments agree to higher standards on air quality, at first targeting fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone, say the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Then they'll move on limits on nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds.

"With new science and research regarding the effects of air pollution on our health and the environment, it has become apparent that the current Canada-wide standards need to be updated and more stringent ambient air quality standards are necessary," the federal-provincial environment ministers' website states.

The new air-quality management system will specifically target industrial pollutants by setting minimum emissions requirements.

Documentation on the website indicates the requirements would affect a wide range of industrial activity related to mining, energy and oil sands, and would apply to boilers, heaters, turbines and engines.

Transportation is also targeted by the new air quality management system.

21,000 premature deaths due to pollution: CMA

While the federal government would set the country's standards, provinces would be left to implement the agreement, with an eye on six regional airsheds that may cross boundaries.

Negotiators have been working for a couple of years on the deal, in conjunction with industry and non-governmental groups. They hope to implement the new standards next year.

Pollution control is a life-and-death matter for tens of thousands of Canadians every year, according to research done by the Canadian Medical Association.

In a 2008 study, the association produced data showing that 21,000 Canadians die prematurely every year because of the effects of air pollution.

Most of those deaths are due to the accumulated exposure over the years, but 3,000 are the result of short-term acute exposure, the study said.

The CMA said that in 2008, air pollution was the cause of 9,000 hospital visits, 30,000 emergency department visits and 620,000 doctor's office visits.