Air pollution from cars, trucks, vans and SUVs

Cars, pick-up trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are all types of passenger vehicles used for personal transportation in Canada. Given that there are approximately 18 million passenger vehicles on Canadian roads, they are a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in urban areas. Air pollution has major adverse impacts on the environment and the health of Canadians. While emissions of some pollutants from passenger vehicles have declined over the past two decades, air pollution continues to be one of Canada's highest environmental priorities and challenges.

Passenger vehicles emit various air pollutants including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur oxides (SOx). Both nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds(VOCs) are involved in a series of complex reactions that result in the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a respiratory irritant and one of the major components of smog. The Criteria Air Contaminants Summary presents the emission estimates of these pollutants from transportation sources in Canada. Passenger vehicles account for a considerable proportion of the total national transportation emissions including:

Since 1971, the federal government has adopted increasingly stringent standards for smog-forming emissions from motor vehicles. On January 1, 2004, the new On-Road Vehicle and Engine Emission Regulations (full regulation) came into effect under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. For passenger vehicles, the regulations phase-in more stringent standards between 2004 and 2009. When these Regulations are fully phased-in, all passenger vehicles will be subject to the same set of emissions standards. These Regulations will result in a reduction of the allowable level of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compound emissions from new vehicles by up to 95 percent and 84 percent, respectively, relative to previous requirements.

The vast majority of passenger vehicles operate using gasoline. Low levels of sulphur in gasoline enable the effective operation of vehicle emission control technologies. As a result of the requirements of the Sulphur in Gasoline Regulations (full regulations), sulphur levels in Canadian gasoline were reduced to an average of 30 parts per million (ppm) as of January 1, 2005. This level represents a reduction of more than 90% relative to average sulphur levels in the 2000 timeframe.

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