Volume 96, Issue 8
Wednesday, September 11, 2002

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City smog - it sure ain't fun

By Paolo Zinatelli
Gazette Staff

After a week of poorer than normal air quality, relief is here for the Forest City.

According to Environment Canada, this year's number of bad air days has increased. In past years, there have been lower levels of heat and humidity, which have resulted in less smog alert days in London.

Andre Cyr, a forecaster with Environment Canada, said a southwesterly air flow has brought pollution into the London region – most of it from the United States.

"Reduce the amount of local pollution," Cyr suggested as a solution to the city's smog level. "But, [smog] will still be there because it is originating somewhere [else]," he added.

Carpooling and the use of public transit are ways to cut back on local air pollution, Cyr added.

Cyr recommended avoiding strenuous activity on days when the air is bad. "You inhale more of the products [by doing outdoor activities], which makes it worse," he said.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment determines when a smog alert is to be issued.

"[The Ministry] issues alerts when we anticipate the Air Quality Index is above 50," said Mark Rabbior, spokesperson for the MOE.

The MOE measures six different contaminants in the air. If any of the six have a concentration of over 50 particles in one hour, a smog advisory is issued, he explained.

If the MOE believes the measurement will remain above 50 for a period of 24 hours, an alert is issued, Rabbior added.

"We forecast [smog alerts] to try and give people a heads-up," he said.

Michelle Martin, a public health inspector with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, agrees that outdoor activities should be reduced on smog alert days.

Martin suggested avoiding physical activity in the late afternoon and early evening, since that is when the air is at its worst.

According to Martin, the AQI in London reached a high of 75 on Sept. 8, with Sept. 9 close behind at 71.

Those most affected by the high AQI readings include the very young, the elderly and those with heart and lung problems, Martin said.

All the smog in the area is formed from chemical pollutants, said Colin Baird, a Western chemistry professor.

"The stagnant hot air mass that's not moving very much will keep the smog here," he said.

While cars are producing some of the pollutants, Baird said, most of the poor air in the London area is coming from the electric power plants burning coal in the Ohio Valley.

"What we contribute [in the London area] would probably affect Kingston," Baird explained.

Both Environment Canada and the MOE are forecasting cooler weather in the days to come, with cleaner air entering the London area from Northern Ontario.

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2002 THE GAZETTE