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The Clean Air Partnership is a registered charity, founded in 2000. Our mission is to work with partners to achieve clean air, facilitate the exchange of ideas, advance change and promote and coordinate implementation of actions that improve local air quality.

CAP: 100 Posts Later

As this is our 100th Clean Air Partnership blog article we thought we would do a few blogs and use this as an opportunity to be a bit nostalgic on the work Clean Air Partnership has been involved in.

Clean Air Partnership got out of the environment gates in the early 2000’s when Toronto Public Health came out with their Air Pollution Burden of Illness report that found that 1,700 people die prematurely each year in the City of Toronto (keep in mind this was the first time there were local numbers to help us answer the question “how does air pollution affect us here?”). This prompted the Ontario Medical Association to undertake their Illness Costs of Air Pollution study that found that 5,900 people die prematurely each year in the Province of Ontario (and as crass as this sounds it’s not like these people are dying a few days before they normally would have; these were people dying years before they should have as a result of air pollution). Perhaps even more influential to changing people’s awareness and motivation for action was drawing attention to the medical costs attributed to air pollution – almost $500 million each year in direct health care costs (this did not even include doctor’s visits or lost productivity)!

These externality costs were also likely a strong impetus for the provincial phase out of coal fired electricity generation in Ontario – a bold and very important step in addressing Ontario’s air pollution sources. Ontario is now the first jurisdiction in North America that has weaned itself off coal for electricity generation – from a high of 25% about a decade ago to 0% today; no small feat. The Clean Air Partnership would like to send a very appreciative thank you to the Province of Ontario and the Clean Air Alliance for their hard work in making this a reality. This was a great example of how factoring in externality costs can provide us with a more accurate understanding of the true costs of our energy choices and decisions. A challenge that I think is even more important now than it’s ever been.

In the early days of our work on air pollution what became apparent is that air pollution is not a problem that can be solved working alone. We need to work all across the air shed and with all levels of government. From that realization was born the Clean Air Council, a network of over 24 municipalities, health units, from across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area working collaboratively with each other and provincial and federal agencies on the development and implementation of clean air and climate change actions. The Clean Air Council is based on the premise that municipalities benefit from actions to reduce energy use in order to save money; limit emissions that impact health; make the movement of people and goods more efficient; and make communities more livable, competitive and resilient. Municipalities have shown significant leadership in addressing clean air, climate change and urban sustainability opportunities and are quick to recognize the synergies between environment, health, community livability, resilience and economic prosperity.

One of the first actions that the Clean Air Council did was to identify the actions that each were doing on smog alert days to reduce their contribution to air quality. We made a list of all the actions along one line of the grid and then the names of all the municipalities along the other axis and then identified who was doing what. Some of the actions included: turning up the thermostat to reduce air conditioning load; getting staff to use public transit to and from work; suspending park maintenance with motorized equipment and street painting; refuelling during evening hours to name just a few of the actions. Within a year of sharing all the actions almost all CAC members were undertaking all the actions on smog alert days. All this from the very simple exercise of sharing information. We then had to ask ourselves why would we only do these actions during smog alerts? Why don’t we try and do these and many other actions every day to reduce our air pollution contributions? From there the start of Clean Air Council Municipal Clean Air and Climate Change Plans were born, raised and nurtured.

In the next series of blogs we will be sharing some of the stories on how and where we have made progress, what we have learnt and where we will be going next. Thanks for your interest in joining us for this Clean Air Partnership story-time and we will be continuing on with the next chapter very soon.

Below is a great video on air quality in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The video shows you everything you ever wanted to know regarding air quality in the GTHA and also it touches on the Air Quality Index and how you can read it to protect yourself from poor air quality.

Relevant CAP Blog posts available to read:

Improving Health by Design

Looking Forward: Technology and the Environment

Path to Healthier Air

15 Indoor Plants to Improve Air Quality

Ohita: Clean Air On The Go For Commuters

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