Interim Plan 2001 on Particulate Matter and Ozone: chapter 4

4.0 Science

Understanding the impacts of PM and ozone on human health and the environment, and measuring the success of actions on these two key air quality issues, are the main knowledge components of this Interim Plan. In addition, solid scientific evidence is the basis for responsible environmental decision-making, and is the foundation for all of Canada's policies and regulations on clean air.

The Government of Canada has played a key role since the early 1970s in the research and measurement of air quality and toxic substances in the atmosphere, and the effects of air pollution on people and the environment. Such work involves scientific research, preparing emission inventories, air quality monitoring and the application of data analysis techniques. The scientific evidence helps us understand where air pollution comes from, how it affects our health, and how to reduce or eliminate its sources. The data also support provincial air quality management, along with international negotiations, agreements and programs aimed at controlling transboundary and global transport of toxic air pollutants.

Science and Monitoring Network

In partnership with the provinces and territories, the federal government will enhance and maintain a monitoring network to meet the requirements of the Canada-wide Standards for Particulate Matter (PM) and Ozone and the Ozone Annex to the Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement. Air quality data are also used to demonstrate the links between air pollution and human health, to design and evaluate air pollution control strategies, identify air quality trends and forewarn of emerging air pollution issues.

Canada already has a well-established monitoring network with over 250 sites located in 139 communities and several rural locations measuring the components of smog. Over the next five years Environment Canada will add new monitoring stations, refurbish critical ones and replace aging instrumentation, such as outdated monitors. Equipment for calibrating monitoring instruments will be upgraded or replaced. New samplers will be added to some existing sites to provide more detailed data on levels and components of PM.

In addition, Environment Canada will improve and upgrade its electronic infrastructure behind the networks. This will enable better and faster reporting to the public, including both long-term trends data and real-time information.


Air quality forecasting is provided in the Maritime provinces. British Columbia is completing a pilot project and other forecasts are issued in conjunction with provincial and municipal agencies. In the Montreal area, a pilot project in the winter of 2001 made forecasts for dispersion rates of pollutants available on the Internet and through the media. As well, national air quality predictions are publicly available through maps posted on the Clean Air site of Environment Canada's Green Lane. Work is also under way to launch daily ozone-based forecasts in Montreal and Vancouver. In Ontario, Environment Canada contributes to the Provincial Air Quality Index and Smog Alert programs.

Environment Canada is also working with the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, who initiated a joint Eastern Canada-U.S. mapping without- borders project in the summer of 2000. The project provides seamless, animated, near real-time Canadian and U.S. ground-level ozone maps for, on the Canadian side, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. The maps are available to the public during the smog season-May through September-on Environment Canada's website.


Research is also ongoing on ammonia sources in agriculture, soil erosion modeling, reduced tillage practices, and soil and resource database management. The findings will contribute to knowledge about agricultural impacts on air quality.

Possible future areas of action

In addition to the scientific work now under way, future clean air policy and initiatives would benefit from the increased knowledge that could be provided by an integrated atmospheric and health science research program specifically focused on Canada's environment and population. Such a program would address critical science gaps, such as:

  • undertaking atmospheric chemistry research (field and laboratory) that supports model development;
  • determining how smog-related pollutants move long distances over boundaries;
  • identifying further the effects of human exposure to smog-related pollutants and other toxic substances, especially chronic exposure;
  • identifying the factors that make certain individuals susceptible to adverse effects from poor air quality;
  • determining how to avoid illness that comes from exposure to air pollution; and
  • increasing sampling and analysis at sites across Canada of persistent and toxic chemicals, and of hazardous chemicals concentrated in polar regions, to better understand their distribution and health impacts.

Health surveillance research should ideally include developing or enhancing existing capacity to further understand air pollution-related effects on circulatory diseases, asthma and other respiratory diseases, pregnancy, infant and children's health, cancer, neuro-behavioral problems and other emerging issues.

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