Local Air Quality Initiatives in the Region of Waterloo:
What Else Can be Done?
Mary Louise McAllister
20 July 2000
Table of Contents
10.0 Conclusions . . 22
11.0 Recommendations . 22
12.0 Bibliography 25
Local Air Quality Initiatives in the Region of Waterloo:
What Else can be Done?
1.0 Report on Group Work
Our group shared the workload fairly equally over the four-month term to reduce discrepancies and confusions. We had good organization structure with clear targets set every week to ensure accountability and progress for the research project.
Chris was mainly responsible for evaluating the expected results of the haphazard survey and the system analysis diagram. He outlined all the actors involved and the research methods to be used. Moreover, he was responsible for formulating criteria in which to evaluate the local strategies. Additionally, he was responsible for formulating some insightful recommendations and conclusions on local air strategies. He was responsible entering these sections and for formatting the PowerPoint presentation. In terms of the final report, Chris was responsible for the research methodology, the haphazard survey and its results, the systems analysis, the recommendations and the conclusions.
Savvas was responsible for evaluating the sources of air pollution and their associated impacts to the community. He also outlined some existing local air strategies and briefly described their objectives to determine if these goals are within the interests of the Waterloo region. He was also responsible for entering this data into the PowerPoint presentation. In the final report, he was responsible for the introduction, the secondary research, and the limitations.
Both group members attended all the meetings with Anita Walker, except for the last one. There was some confusion over the time of the meeting. We both met with Mary Louise McAllister in order to finalize our presentation.
In Canada, smog and air pollution is a major concern for most urban centers, but because it travels with the wind, it can affect sparsely populated areas as well. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to smog, along with small children and those with heart or lung disease. High levels of smog can adversely affect even healthy adults. Recent studies in Ontario have demonstrated that hospital admissions for respiratory problems increase as smog levels increase (Environment Canada 1998). In fact, around two thousands people die prematurely every year in Ontario alone for air pollution-related illnesses (OMA 1999).
The region of Waterloo consistently faces poor air quality as a result of global, national, regional and local pollution. Air pollution not only affects community health, but also ecosystem sustainability. Fossil fuel burning and car exhaust fumes rapidly degrade ecosystem integrity by eliminating future carbon sinks. Since air pollution adversely affects tree health, there is no carbon sink to absorb all this pollution. The end result of all these air pollutants is the creation of smog, which reduces community health and sustainability (Environment Canada 1998).
We intend to evaluate the causes and sources of air pollution to determine if local air quality strategies would make a difference in improving air quality within the region of Waterloo. Furthermore, we will outline the major sources of air pollution and how they contribute to the global, regional and local scales. When evaluating the existing strategies, we want to determine what aspects should be included to make the strategies more effective and feasible and in the communitys interest. When answering this question and others, we will determine what is needed to adequately address the air quality problem facing Kitchener-Waterloo. We will evaluate air quality initiatives at the federal, provincial and regional levels to outline the limitations of each initiative at each level of jurisdiction.
For our research methodology, we intend to use secondary research and a non-probabilistic, haphazard survey research method in order to gather relevant data on whether local air strategies have the capacity to work in the region of Waterloo. The Haphazard methods pose various limitations that will be further discussed.
Our group also established a systems analysis that illustrates the actors involved and the expected recommendations that came out of the haphazard survey. Moreover, Chris established brief criteria on how to evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy at each level. The criteria will signify the limitations of each strategy in terms of public attitude and lack of government will. Then, we evaluated the results from the haphazard survey and formulated some recommendations on the ways to improve current air quality strategies. Finally, the analysis of the results and secondary research led us to create some insightful concluding remarks.
3.0 Research Question
How effective are the existing local air quality strategies and initiatives in effectively dealing with the sources of air pollution in Kitchener-Waterloo?
What else needs to be done, if anything, to adequately address the causes and impacts of poor air quality in the region?
Air quality is significant to the Kitchener-Waterloo community because air pollution adversely affects the communitys health, ecosystem integrity and overall sustainability. Air pollution must be adequately addressed by local strategies. If it is not, air quality will not be considered a serious problem in the eyes of the public.
Local strategies must be designed in a way that encourages public participation and involvement in order to reduce air pollution. For instance, local strategies should be designed in such a way as to provide incentives for the public to use alternative methods of transportation, such as walking, biking, carpooling or public transit. Since current strategies (e.g. Clean Air Plan) are voluntary in nature, they have consistently failed to raise awareness of air quality within the region of Waterloo as they depend too much on voluntary action. Voluntary initiatives are adequate in dealing with the adverse effects of air pollution because the public will not consider them seriously.
The boundary for our purpose study is the region of Waterloo because this region has one of the worst air qualities in the country.
6.0 Conceptual Framework
This study examined all levels of contribution to the air quality problem in Kitchener-Waterloo. Pollution from global and regional (i.e. Southern Ontario) sources provides the largest amounts of contaminants to the air in this region. This limits the effectiveness of any local strategy because the bulk of the problem largely originates from outside the local area. Therefore, there is limited jurisdiction in the ability of the region of Kitchener-Waterloo to solve these problems (see Appendix I). Nevertheless, a local strategy would be effective in controlling and reducing the amount of local contaminants in the air. It would lead to greater sustainability within the region, improving the health of the citizens and the ecosystem as a result.
7.0 Systems Analysis
There are many actors and stakeholders that play a role in the successful development and implementation of local air quality strategies and initiatives (see Appendix II). Some of the core actors, who are continuously and intensively involved, will include municipal and city councilors (Murphy, 1998). Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), environmental NGOs (ENGOs), business/industry, academics the media and the general public have supporting roles in the process (see Appendix II). They will be less involved than the regional government officials, but their influence will no doubt have an important role to play in the decision-making process (Murphy, 1998). Support and cooperation from the provincial and federal levels of government is also part of the successful development and implementation of local air quality strategies.
All the aforementioned actors play a significant role in influencing the Regional Municipality of Waterloo when developing its policies and strategies that deal with air pollution in the region. They have different perspectives and biases. The relative amount of power that these actors have in the region plays a large role in the amount of influence they will have on the regional government in policy-making. The media is a useful and influential actor in bringing environmental concerns into the light and in view of the public. For this reason, the media is an essential actor in the way local strategies are developed and what the strategies deal with.
Public opinion, awareness, and understanding of the air quality problem are also an important element. Perhaps more than any other actor involved in the issue, the public has the ability to influence political decision-making. However, if the public is not well informed or is ignorant, it is unlikely that any substantial action will be taken to improve the air quality of the region. Public participation is a crucial element of the process.
Several local strategies have been developed in the region, both by the region itself, and also in cooperation with the provincial and federal governments. They serve as preliminary steps in dealing with the air quality problem in the region. However, more needs to be done in order to adequately address the point sources of the problem and their outreaching effects.
8.0 Research Methodology
There were three parts of our research methodology, as the diagram below illustrates. These three elements included a review of secondary literature, a haphazard survey of 100 respondents in Kitchener-Waterloo, and an examination of some existing air quality strategies.
The secondary research was undertaken in order to gain an understanding of the major contaminants that contribute to poor air quality, urban smog, and on a global level climate change. The haphazard survey was done in order to relate the sources of air quality to public perception of the sources, significance of the air quality problem, and any health impacts that people have experienced due to poor air quality. The case study of existing strategies was conducted in order to evaluate what has been implemented so far by the region, both on its own and in cooperation with provincial and federal levels of governments.
8.1 Secondary Research
Secondary literature was used to analyze the causes and sources of air pollution. Some existing air quality strategies at the regional, provincial and federal levels were examined in order to assess their potential effectiveness in reducing air pollution.
The pollutants must be clearly understood in addition to the sources of air pollution. Referring to Appendix III, the causes of air pollution are the specific pollutants that end up in the atmosphere, either from the combustion of fuels or emissions from factories. Some air pollutants that significantly contribute to air pollution are Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Sulfur Dioxide (SOx), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Particulate Matter (PM) and Ground-level ozone. Each air pollutant has its distinct effect on the communitys health and the surrounding environment. Airborne particles (specifically Particulate Matter) and ground-level ozone, however, pose the largest risk to community health (Environment Canada 1998).
Airborne particles are dust or minute droplets of liquid that are small enough to remain suspended in the air. These particles give smog its colour and can affect visibility. Airborne particles small enough to be inhaled, and may have a significant impact on human health, particularly for those who already suffer from heart or lung disease.
Of particular concern to our health are the ultra-fine particles and very fine particles (less than 2.5 microns across) that can penetrate deep within the lungs and stay there for days or even weeks. These ultra-fine particles are the particular matter and pose the greatest concern. The particulate matter is derived primarily for common air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, NOx, and VOCs. Chemical reactions in polluted air convert these gases into particles of sulfate, nitrate and organic compounds; or minute liquid droplets of sulfuric or nitric acid (Environment Canada 1998)
Ground-level ozone significantly contributes to air pollution. It is colourless and a highly irritating gas that forms when sunlight heats the air pollutants often found over urban areas on hot summer days. Two common air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, react with each other to produce ground-level ozone. The formation of ground-level ozone is important because it does not provide any protection from the suns harmful ultra violet (UV) rays, and the ground-level ozone never finds its way to the upper atmosphere. Extensive exposure to ozone can irritate the nose and throat and cause chest tightness.
High ozone levels in Canada have been linked to increase emergency hospital visits and admissions. There is also evidence the ozone exposure heightens the sensitivity of asthmatics to allergens (Environment Canada 1998).
Not only do airborne particles and ground-level ozone pose health problems for humans, but they are known to damage vegetation and tree health, reduce crop productivity, and to cause deterioration in natural and synthetic materials. Another impact of air pollutants is the speeding up of global warming which increases the rate of natural disasters for coastal cities.
The sources of air pollution need to be briefly discussed to assess the air pollution at the global, regional and local scale. Referring to Appendix I, the diagram lists all the sources of air pollution when considering global, regional and local scales. On the global scale, one major source of air pollution is transboundary pollution, which suggests that air pollution from one region is carried by the wind into another location. Kitchener-Waterloo receives fifty percent of its air pollution from the Ohio valley, where massive coal-fired power generating plants produce enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.
There are various sources of air pollution at the regional scale, in other words, the province of Ontario. Some sources of air pollution include industry, motor vehicles and transboundary pollution. For industry, this includes iron, steel and aluminum plants as major sources of air pollution because they are the most common in the province.
Transboundary pollution has a major effect in transporting air pollution from a local scale to a regional scale and then to a global scale. Motor vehicle contributors include heavy-duty diesel transport trucks and gasoline cars as sources of air pollution at the regional scale. Also vehicles are an important sources of air pollution due to the amount of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere.
The various sources of air pollution at the local scale were motor vehicles, factories, pesticide spraying, lawnmowers and residential heating. All these factors contribute significantly to air pollution, but factories and motor vehicles remain the major contributors to air pollution (Environment Canada 1998).
There are three major air quality strategies that we focused on, each representing the regional, provincial and federal level of jurisdiction.
A federal-level strategy, in cooperation with municipalities, aimed to reduce air pollution is the Commuter Challenge. The commuter challenge is a weeklong, friendly competition among Canadian cities to see which one can cut its air pollution the most by using active and sustainable transportation. The friendly competition encourages the cities to make a significant commitment to walking, in-line skating, jogging, cycling or using public transportation for environmental and economic benefits (Commuter Challenge, 2000).
8.2 Haphazard Survey
The second research method that was used in conducting this study was a haphazard survey of 100 respondents in five sites throughout Kitchener-Waterloo:
The surveys were completed (as noted on the above map) at four sites in Kitchener-Waterloo. These sites were Conestoga Mall in north Waterloo, Waterloo Town Square on the corner of Erb Street and King Street, the Environmental Studies building at the University of Waterloo, Fairview Mall in south Kitchener, and Stanley Park Mall in southwestern Kitchener.
As the legend to the above map demonstrates, the distribution of respondents in Kitchener and Waterloo was relatively equal. 46 people were surveyed at the two Kitchener sites, and 54 were surveyed at the three locations in Waterloo.
Due to time constraints and availability of participants, a haphazard survey was chosen as a way to collect data on public perception of air quality. This survey method entails simply interviewing whoever is available without prior screening or selectivity (Palys, 1997).
8.2.2 Survey Results
The results of the haphazard survey were broken down into three categories. The first two questions were intended to gauge the publics perception of the extent of the air quality problem in Kitchener-Waterloo, both in terms of whether or not there is a perceived problem, and on a comparative basis with cities that are traditionally recognized to have poor air quality.
We considered questions 3 and 4 together in our analysis in order to examine what the general perception is of the main contributors to poor air quality in the region, and the impact these sources have had on the health of the respondents.
Questions 5 and 6 were grouped together. They were intended determine if the public wants to see any action taken to improve the regions air quality. This was in terms of the relative urgency of such action, and whether they believe the municipal government has the jurisdiction and political will to implement such measures.
The following is a breakdown of the key findings of the survey on a question-to-question basis.
Would you say there is an air quality problem in Kitchener-Waterloo?
Compared to cities such as Toronto or Hamilton, would you say the air quality here is better or worse?
These two questions were intended to serve as a basis for the questions that were to follow. We wanted to have an indication of whether the general public believed there was actually an air quality problem.
As it turned out, 72% of the respondents believed there was an air quality problem in the region. 68% of the respondents believed the air quality in Kitchener-Waterloo was better than in cities such as Toronto or Hamilton, which are regarded as having poor air quality.
These responses are paradoxical in a sense in terms of capturing public awareness and understanding of the air quality problem in Kitchener-Waterloo. The vast majority of those surveyed knew there was an air quality problem, but were not aware of the extent and severity of the problem in the region. This is of some concern, and is an important element to be addressed in local air quality strategies. The public must be aware of the air quality in the region and its impacts on both the biophysical environment and their health.
What do you think contributes the most to air pollution in the city?
Have you or anyone you know experienced any respiratory or other
health problems, particularly in the summer?
Another aspect of the publics knowledge of air pollution in the region involves awareness of where the pollutants originate from and what are the point sources of contaminants. 65% of those surveyed believed that the largest single source of contaminants was automobiles and other means of motorized transport.
Surprisingly, 10% of respondents thought that the biggest reason for the air quality problem in the region was transboundary pollution from the Midwest United States. The transboundary pollution from the coal plants in the Ohio Valley contributes over half of the pollutants in the region. It was not anticipated at the time of the survey that this number of people would be aware of this.
Upon further analysis, it is more obvious that question 5a. is somewhat leading and does not lend itself to a "no" answer. In that sense it is somewhat biased. This was demonstrated through the survey. 99% of the respondents thought it would be a good idea for city council to take measures to improve air quality, and 90% thought something was necessary, if not in the short term, but before the air pollution becomes much worse. The reason these first two questions were worded as such was to lead into the third part of the question, which asks what the respondents would like to be implemented.
With the resources available, do you think the municipal government can implement such measures?
Many of the responses to this question mirrored the responses to the third question, which asked what the respondents perception of the main contributors to air pollution were. It became apparent that people would want to see actions taken to reduce the pollutants from what they perceived to be the main causes. 72% of respondents believed something should be done in terms of transportation. Responses included improving public transportation to make it more affordable and accessible (33%), putting in more bicycle lanes in the city (17%), fuel switching (5%) and simply implementing measures to discourage car use (17%). The remainder of the respondents thought more monitoring of industry was needed, more trees should be planted, and pesticide use should be reduced.
The sixth question may have been worded differently to achieve the results we were looking for. The fact is that the general public does not have adequate knowledge of the resources available to the local government, and cannot answer the question in a way that is relevant. Similarly, it was not specified what "resources" were defined as, whether it is financial or human or other. Perhaps asking the respondents if they believed the local government had the "political will" to implement such measures would have been the appropriate question to ask in this circumstance.
The respondents had a great deal of faith in the regional government. 80% of those surveyed did in fact believe that the government had the ability to implement the measures that were identified in question 5c. Several respondents noted that they were unsure due to the fact that it may not be within the local municipalitys jurisdiction to implement some of the measures that were identified. This is a significant factor.
8.3 Examination of Existing Air Quality Strategies
There are three major air quality strategies that we focused on, one each representing the regional, provincial and federal level of jurisdiction.
A federal-level strategy that is aimed to reduce air pollution is the Commuter Challenge. The commuter challenge is a weeklong, friendly competition among Canadian cities to see which one can cut its air pollution the most by using sustainable transportation such as walking, cycling, skating or using public transit. A strength of the commuter challenge is there is a significant reduction in air pollution if there is a citywide commitment to active and sustainable transportation. On the other hand, the major limitation to commuter challenge is that it is a voluntary initiative, and only those interested in improving air quality will participate in the competition (Commuter Challenge 2000).
A provincial-level strategy is the Clean Air Plan (CAP). The CAP is a voluntary plan that has been adopted by all three cities (Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge) and the four townships (Wilmot, Woolwich, North Dumfries and Wellesley) in the region of Waterloo. Its goal is to address the issue of air pollution within the region. The CAP consists of short and long-term objectives aimed to improve air quality through voluntary action. The CAP provides appropriate short and long-term measures to reduce air pollution, thereby attracting the interests of a larger audience. Like the commuter challenge, the CAP relies on voluntary action in order to be effective. The voluntary initiative may suggest to the public that air pollution is not serious enough to warrant a value change: on whether to use cars or public transit (Clean Air Plan 1999).
A regional-level initiative is the Citizens Advisory Committee on Air Quality (Waterloo Region). This committee works to improve air quality and reduce the impact of air pollution on personal health and the environment. The committee was formed in the summer of 1998 in an attempt to deal with smog alert days. The committee includes citizens, municipal staff, council members, health and environmental agencies, and academics. The strength of this committee is that it raises awareness of air pollution among citizens. The major limitation is they lack jurisdictional authority, so they have no power to enforce appropriate strategies they formulate (Burrett 1999).
In short, all three strategies have established appropriate goals and objectives to reduce air pollution but, because the strategies are voluntary initiatives, they lack the power to enforce sustainable measures. Furthermore, the strategies depend too much on voluntary action to work, which implies that air quality should be simply addressed not stressed (Burrett 1999).
There were several limitations to the research methods we used. Generally, we outlined the limitations to show that we are aware of our personal bias when selecting specific research methods and whom to sample. We used a non-probabilistic haphazard sampling method for our survey (Palys, 1997: 125).
A major limitation to the haphazard survey was the ill-defined population or target group. Since haphazard sampling involves getting whomever you can, there was great variation of respondents in terms of age, education level and income level. This great variation made it very difficult to specify a clear population for our survey method (Palys, 1997: 136). This variation may have had an effect on the reliability and validity of the sample. For instance, if a similar group conducted the same survey, they may obtain different answers if a different sample was targeted and another sampling method was used (Palys, 1997: 125). The unreliable and invalid results may have produced systematic errors when analyzing the expected results. A systematic error occurs when aspects of our sampling method make some people more likely to be surveyed than others. For example, since the survey was performed outside major shopping centers, those who frequent those malls are more likely to be potential respondents (Palys, 1997: 125).
Another limitation to our sampling method was our personal biases. We show our biases through the questions that we formulated in our survey, through our understanding of air quality, and the criteria developed to assess the effectiveness of existing air quality strategies and initiatives.
Being a haphazard survey, the sample was obviously unrepresentative. The survey techniques may have targeted one group over another, which suggests there is not an equal representation of the publics views on air quality. An example from our surveying is that more senior citizens were interviewed than any other age group. This was due to the fact that our surveys were conducted for the most part from 10:00 am to 4:00 p.m., at a time when many people are at work. Unrepresentative samples make it difficult to formulate conclusions because one cannot portray the sample as indicative of the entire population.
Reactivity is always a limiting factor when conducting surveys. Reactivity is whether and to what extent the presence of the researcher causes participants to react by changing their behavior. One factor that contributed to reactivity was the characteristics of the observer. The greater the similarity between the observer and the observed in terms of age, dress, race or gender may have had an effect on the reactive nature of the respondent (Palys, 1997: 195). For instance, students who took part in the survey appeared less reactive than others did. Another essential factor contributing to reactivity was reactive bias, which simply implies that respondents may give answers that they thought we wanted to hear, rather than giving their true opinions on the issue. For example, the people being surveyed may have agreed that there is an air quality problem in Kitchener-Waterloo because it was mentioned that we are Environment and Resource Studies students at the University of Waterloo. The reactive bias is an important factor because it may make the results unreliable and invalid. Therefore, the expected results cannot be used to generalize the population as a whole.
The time of day and season also played a role in potentially limiting our results. The time we conducted the survey is a major limitation, as mentioned previously, because different people work different hours. Since our survey is being conducted in the summer, people may be more willing to participate.
The survey sites may have been unrepresentative and may have thus proved a limitation. By choosing to conduct the surveys at shopping centers, we strategically sampled those who went to the malls at that particular time. The people who were working or elsewhere were not sampled, making the sample unrepresentative (Palys, 1997).
Open-ended questions turned out to be a significant limitation. The biggest problem to this type of questions is how we, the interviewers, deal with them. The uniqueness of each persons point of view and expression can make it seem that there are as many different categories of responses as there are people surveyed. It was a challenge grouping some of the answers as a result to fit into categories. Respondents answers are not as easily compared using open-ended questions as would have been if closed-ended ones had been employed (Palys, 1997: 165).
Time constraints and resources available significantly limited this study. For instance, the lack of regional information on air quality issues forced us to rely primarily on federal and provincial documents and data to provide somewhat relevant information. Although this information is valuable at the provincial level, it cannot be applied as easily to the Region of Waterloo because the statistics on air pollution are not uniform throughout the province. The region may also have different interests and priorities than the province, so provincial air quality strategies may be somewhat inadequate for the regions air quality objectives. Time constraints limited the number of respondents surveyed. This is important because the fewer respondents, the more unreliable and invalid the results become (Palys, 1997: 125).
A final factor that significantly limited our study was the fact that our group was reduced to two members by the end of the term. This particular project is very broad in scope and to adequately examine it requires a combination of secondary research, haphazard surveying, and key informant interviews with University faculty and city councilors and workers. Unfortunately, the latter was unable to be conducted due to further time constraints and scheduling conflicts. This was unfortunate because interviews with key actors involved in air quality issues in Kitchener-Waterloo would have been beneficial and would have provided a regional perspective of the issue, which is lacking in our study.
There is a serious air quality problem in Kitchener-Waterloo. Transboundary pollution accounts largely for this, but transportation, industry and various other sources also contribute to the problem.
Based on the haphazard survey conducted, the public appear to be somewhat aware of the air quality problem, but there are several significant gaps in their awareness that need to be filled by public education programs and public participation in decision-making.
The initiatives that have been implemented by the regional and local governments, and in cooperation with the provincial and federal levels of government, contribute significantly in dealing with the air quality issue. However, more needs to be done at all levels. If the federal and provincial governments are unable to show leadership in the area, action must be taken at the regional and municipal level to promote community involvement and public input into decision-making.
After analysing the results of our secondary research, survey and examination of existing air quality strategies and initiatives, it is evident that there are several actions that can and need to be taken in order to improve air quality in Kitchener-Waterloo in order to create a healthy community.
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Commuter Challenge (2000) What is the Commuter Challenge [Online]. Available at: http://www.commuterchallenge.net.what.html (4 July 2000).
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Municipalities Take Action. Ottawa: February, 2000
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