Tackling Hamilton’s Air Particulate Pollution Woes

For almost three years now, Environment Hamilton has been working hard to engage Hamiltonians in efforts to track local air particulate pollution in our city.  Our efforts started with Bicycle Air Monitoring (BAM!) in the summer of 2014.  BAM! inspired the INHALE project (Initiative for Health Air & Local Economies) – a collaborative effort with the Toronto Environmental Alliance.   Then came Trees Please – Green Solutions to Air Pollution which we launched in partnership with the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club - in 2016.   

All three of these initiatives have one critically important thing in common – they teach community volunteers how to become citizen scientists.  We have a growing group of volunteers who help us to gather local air quality data with an easy-to-use hand-held air particulate monitor.  You don’t need a science degree to participate – just a passion for clean air!   Community-collected data gets uploaded to  two on-line maps that provide visual representations of how air particulate levels vary across the city (see www.bicyclingroute.com and www.inhalemap.com).  

Our growing file of air particulate data is revealing areas of the city with chronic particulate pollution problems.   Some of the sources are obvious ones – like the agricultural grain handling facilities that generate large clouds of dust when grain is loaded onto ships or the unpaved scrapyards whose trucks leave clouds of dust in their wake.   These are stationary sources of particulate pollution that generate very localized particulate pollution that can impact on nearby neighbourhoods.   We continue to push for these sources of particulate pollution to be addressed by reporting problems to the appropriate provincial or municipal regulator.  You can help us by doing the same thing – check out our Stack Watch and Dust Busters initiatives for details on how to report problems. 

Our monitoring efforts have also identified areas where ‘mobile’ sources of particulate pollution are contributing to poor air quality.  The most troubling example of this are the large 18-wheeler industrial trucks that regularly rumble through the core of the city, using our downtown streets as a shortcut to and from Highway 403.   Our community-powered particulate monitoring has confirmed that these trucks contribute regular pulses of fine, respirable particulate as they move through the city core, exposing anyone walking or cycling along downtown streets.   Hamilton has the highest levels of PM2.5 lof any Ontario urban centre.   Respirable air particles or PM2.5 are 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller - so small that you can’t see them with the naked eye.  But these particles pose a significant human health risk.  PM2.5 particles get down into our lungs and we can’t cough them back out; they’re small enough to get right into our bloodstream, often bringing harmful contaminants along for the ride.   PM2.5 contributes to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and is a confirmed cause of lung cancer.   

So, you might wonder, what are we doing to try to see our particulate pollution woes resolved?   We continue to collect particulate pollution data – and we’re always looking for more community volunteers to help with this.  Send us a note at contactus@environmenthamilton.org of you would like to get involved.    Our Trees Please! initiative is all about action on the ground to address air quality problems.  We are collecting air quality data and tree audit information to identify locations that will benefit the most from ‘strategic tree planting’ to reduce air particulate pollution.  Trees trap fine air particulate pollution on their leaves and needles, reducing human exposure in the process.   To volunteer with Trees Please! click here.  Finally, we believe, along with a growing number of concerned community members, that industrial trucks should not be allowed to short cut through the heart of our city, exposing Hamiltonians to fine particulate pollution in the process.    We are continuing to advocate for changes to the truck route system that would require industrial trucks to use Burlington Street to access the major highway network.    Stay tuned for more information on this effort – we’ll need your support to make it happen! 

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