Ecology Ottawa's Breathe Easy Campaign
Breathing clean air is vital to our physical health, but is a growing challenge with the rise of pollutants in our atmosphere. Although we rarely see it, air pollution is one of the most significant environmental challenges impacting public health, and one of the most avoidable causes of death and disease globally. Air pollution leads to disease, increased hospitalizations, and even premature death from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.2 million deaths occur globally every year occur as a result of exposure to outdoor air pollution, with the Government of Canada estimating that 15,300 premature deaths per year in Canada are linked to air pollution from fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Of these, Health Canada estimates that air pollution contributes to 6,600 premature deaths in Ontario alone; equivalent to 42 premature deaths per 100,000 Canadians.
People most at risk for health effects include seniors because age weakens the heart, lungs and immune system and increases the likelihood of health problems such as heart and lung disease. Children are also more vulnerable to air pollution: they have less-developed respiratory and defense systems. Because of their size, they inhale more air per kilogram of body weight than adults. This means that they are particularly vulnerable whilst travelling in and moving around diesel school buses.
In light of these worrying statistics, and in view of the fact that in Ottawa there is only a single air quality monitoring station downtown, over 2020 and 2021 Ecology Ottawa ran a community-led air quality monitoring program across the city with over 100 volunteers involved each year.
Breathe Easy 2020
In 2020, Ecology Ottawa’s volunteers collected air quality data from 40 sites across Ottawa, measuring particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide (which is produced by Ontario’s fleet of 18,000 diesel school buses) in the air. Over 150 volunteers trained to use the devices for air quality monitoring across Ottawa, while five more were involved in the data management, analysis and mapping effort. The campaign was Ottawa’s largest community-led science project and we are so proud to be leading such a critical campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of air pollution all around us.
See the interactive map with the data points from the 2020 campaign below.
Tackling inequality and protecting the vulnerable - Breathe Easy 2021
In 2021, we monitored even more locations across the city over July, August and September. Once the data is analysed, we will be adding the data to the interactive map to allow us to track changes from last year and launching a report detailing the results for both residents and policy makers.
Our 2021 campaign had an increased equity lens, and another layer on our interactive map will include neighbourhood level data looking at population density, affluence and racialized communities. We want to see if there are links between neighbourhood demographics and air quality.
We also focused on the most vulnerable sectors of the population, including children in schools and seniors in care homes. Driven by studies on air quality specifically in school zones: https://ontarioactiveschooltravel.ca/join-our-dirty-drop-off-webinar/ (presented by Dr. Matthew Adams at the U of Toronto (Mississauga)) a number of our sites were located outside of schools so that we could assess the effect of diesel buses as well as other vehicle emissions where children are being dropped off in the morning. The results of such studies are particularly notable in relation to the location of kindergartens, which are often right beside bus drop-off locations and of course involve highly vulnerable individuals on account of their small size.
In 2021 we held two webinars looking at the results of our air quality data collection campaign in collaboration with Sierra Club Canada. The first of these featured prominent researcher and University of Toronto professor Dr. Greg Evans, whose research focuses on air pollution and understanding its impacts on human health and the environment. The second featured Dr. Errol Thomson, a Research Scientist with Health Canada and Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa, who provided an overview of ongoing research efforts into the health effects of air pollution, including the widespread nature of effects, how pollutant composition (and hence source) matters, and factors that contribute to vulnerability.
This project was made possible with the help of the Trottier Foundation and wouldn't have been possible without our team of fantastic volunteers!