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Ministry says air quality in Durham similar to rest of GTA

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks says air quality in Durham is similar to that of other areas in the GTA.

Clarington council recently requested an overview of air monitoring programs in Durham Region from the ministry.

The town asked the province to primarily focus on particulate matter found in the air.

In response, the ministry released a memorandum which summarizes the air monitoring results between 2013 and 2016.

Ministry staff reviewed data from ambient air stations operated by local stakeholders, as well as the provincial and federal governments.

According to a report from commissioner of works Susan Siopis, stakeholders operating ambient air stations include Durham York Energy Centre (DYEC) and St. Mary’s Cement, both of these are found in the municipality of Clarington.

In Whitby the ministry reviewed Gerdau Ameristeel Company, as well as the Highway 407 East construction near Whitby and Clarington.

Siopis also says the MECP reviewed the government run air monitoring stations in Oshawa, Newmarket and Toronto West, all of which are operated by the province.

The government run organization also reviewed data from Gage and Simcoe ambient air monitoring stations operated by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

According to Siopis, the gathered data was compared to Ontario Ambient Air Quality Criteria (AACQ), and Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS).

According to Siopis, “Review of the data between 2013 and 2016 indicates background sources have changed in southern Clarington over the observation period mainly due to changes in local activities near the monitors.”

She writes it is impossible to attribute measurements to a single source for every air monitoring network.

“In every air monitoring network there are multiple sources contributing to the observations at each station,” explains Siopis.

According to Siopis, the ministry reports pollutants at the monitored stations are below federal and provincial standards except for a few 24-hour averages of fine particle matter (PM2.5) and benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) exceedances.”

Siopis notes the readings of PM2.5 and BaP concentrations in Durham are similar to those found in other urban settings with similar exceedances in ambient air monitoring stations across southern Ontario.

“Measurements of both pollutants are influenced by construction dust, diesel equipment (construction and agricultural), mobile traffic, and residential or commercial wood burning,” Siopis writes.

The ministry memorandum states increases in elevated PM2.5 events at DYEC air monitoring stations in 2015 and 2016 are possibly results of meteorological changes, alongside local activities.

Some of these activities could include the construction of Highway 407 East, as well as road realignments near the Rundle Road ambient air monitoring station.

Exceedances of BaP around the DYEC were more frequent “when the winds were originating from upwind of the DYEC facility,” according to Siopis.

Siopis writes this indicates the background BaP concentrations at DYEC monitoring stations could have been due to traffic, construction equipment, as well as residential or commercial wood burning.

“The MECP’s technical memorandum concludes that data from stakeholder monitoring stations and corresponding wind patterns indicate the DYEC and other industrial sources are not the only contributors to air quality issues,” says Siopis.

She notes construction activities, residential, commercial, agricultural and transportation sources all contribute to the air quality measurements at the air monitoring stations around Durham.