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BreatheEasy provides research, testing, designing and consulting solutions for air quality problems. It is based in New Delhi, India.

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25, Community Centre East of Kailash

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Cole: Our new MPs should be talking about air quality

Oct 2, 2021

Information being collected through the BreatheEasy project shows that Ottawa has its share of pollution — which can have serious health effects. Author of the article: Ottawa's skyline was hazy on Aug. 7, 2021, when an air quality advisory was in effect due to smoke from wildfires in northern Ontario. Air quality levels locally were several times worse than safe limits. Photo by Courtesy of Jake Cole /jpg Article content During the federal election campaign, some Ottawa-area candidates showed interest in the state of our city’s air quality. The Sierra Club Canada Foundation invited candidates from all the major federal parties to check out the air quality in their ridings and a few took the time to visit with us. We believe that air quality is something most people in the city should know about and understand, and so should our new local MPs. Advertisement Article content The SCCF is carrying out the project, BreatheEasy, to measure local air quality and report our findings publicly. How is the air in Ottawa? Certainly in late July and early August, with the wildfires burning in northern Ontario, it was not fresh anywhere, with pollution levels in Ottawa several times worse than levels that are considered safe by national and international standards. Government-issued warnings at that time advised people to stay indoors and reduce strenuous exercise. We apologize, but this video has failed to load. Try refreshing your browser, or Cole: Our new MPs should be talking about air quality Back to video As well as being a local issue, air quality is a country-wide concern. Health Canada states i n a 2021 report that annually, some 15,300 people die prematurely in our country from air pollution. That same report indicates that about 500 of that number are here in Ottawa. Advertisement Article content Here is some late-breaking news. Just a few days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is changing its guidelines for recommended air pollution levels, making them almost 50-per-cent more stringent than before. Based on these new WHO recommendations, and using the results of the monitoring we have done so far in our project, we can say that we have found many areas in the city where the air pollution levels exceed these new guidelines. Canada’s own current guidelines for acceptable air pollution levels are not as strict as those recommended in the new WHO announcement. Where are the air pollution “hot spots” in Ottawa? They can be typically situated where there is heavy traffic, lots of construction, school bus drop-off areas, where wood is being burned and where there are other sources of emissions. Even a gas-fired lawn mower in operation can create unsafe localized air quality. Advertisement Article content While most individual neighbourhoods that we measured had lower levels of air pollution than the new WHO guidelines, some exceeded those levels. The air quality in Ottawa is generally better than most major cities but is not perfect. It could be and should be better. Our project aims at raising public awareness about air quality in the city. We have used a team of volunteer “citizen scientists” to help with the project. We have tried to take air quality readings all over the city — in public areas, near high traffic zones, construction sites and near individuals’ homes. We held webinars with some international air quality experts and learned what other countries and cities are doing to address air quality. We are seeking additional funding to expand the project. Advertisement Article content Air quality is a concern for everyone. Some credible reports state that less than 10 per cent of people in the world are breathing fresh, healthy air and that climate change and global warming are making things even worse. Wildfires from near and far are creating air pollution that is now visible and harmful for many of us. We want to once again extend an invitation to all the Ottawa-based MPs from all federal parties to meet with us and discuss an issue that affects our city, our country, our health and our future. And we invite all people in Ottawa to join our efforts by asking their new MPs what they are doing to make it easier for everyone to breathe clean air. Jake Cole is former environment director at Canadian Coast Guard, a volunteer with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation and leader of its air quality project, BreatheEasy. The project is funded by the Ottawa Community Foundation and carried out in cooperation with Ecology Ottawa. More information on that project is available at: Direct contact: Share this Story: Cole: Our new MPs should be talking about air quality

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