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Growth without pollution: Vancouver and elsewhere [audiorecording] Bates, David 1995-10-28

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592593David BatesGROWTH WITHOUT AIR POLLUTION:VANCOUVER AND ELSEWHEREDr. David Batesformer Dean of MedicineUBCOctober 28, 1995Biographical Note: A leading figure in research on the health effects of air pollu-tion, Dr. Bates has served as visiting professor at the University of California,Johns Hopkins, Harvard Medical School and other prominent universities in NorthAmerica and abroad. He currently serves as an advisor to the GVRD on the airpollution problems facing the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.There are certain human failings that we all share (and are preparedto confess to in moments of candour). One of these is an inherentlaziness when we know that we should take steps to prevent thingsfrom happening -- crisis response often seems to be the most that wecan manage.The Lower Mainland knew that it had a serious air pollutionproblem when, on September 3rd, 1988 at 4 p.m., ozone levels in theFraser Valley reached 212 parts per billion. Such a high level wastotally unexpected. It is easy to miss such events because the highestozone concentrations are reached some miles downwind from wherethe significant emissions -- mostly oxides of nitrogen from transpor-tation -- occur. Not only is such a level of ozone deleterious to crops,but it will also adversely affect normal people. In a study of farmworkers in the Fraser valley in the summer of 1993, it was shownthat the ozone level (at about 70 parts per billion) was reducing theirmaximal lung function. (See Table 1)Residents in the Fraser Valley have noticed the increase indays with limited visibility, particularly in the summer, and this isdue to fine particle pollution. Those among us who would urge thatno significant steps should be taken to curb air pollution until sig-nificant adverse effects have been demonstrated, must have been dis-594concerted to learn that adverse effects on people have also been shownto occur at the particle pollution levels we are now experiencing.How have these significant levels of ozone and particulate pollutioncome about?This is easy to answer since, between 1985 and 1992, thepopulation increased 20% and the trips by car drivers increased over40%. (See Figure 1)  Vehicle miles travelled have consistently ex-ceeded the growth in population. Cars have become progressivelyless polluting, but such increases in their use mean that the totalemissions of pollutants increased. We don’t have to look very far toTable Note: The dominance of vehicles in the emissions of NOx is apparent. NOxemissions are important because they are responsible for the downwind forma-tion of ozone and photochemical aerosols in the summer, and it is these that areaffecting the Fraser Valley.Source:GVRDTABLE 1: NOX Emission Inventory(Total Lower Fraser Valley, 1985)SOURCE TONNES/YRLight Duty Vehicles 21,754Heavy Duty Vehicles 8,644Other Mobile Sources 14,235Subtotal 44,633Point Sources 6,789Area Sources 3,342Total 54,764595David Batesanswer the question of why people are driving more: with both par-ents working, car trips to Daycare Centres become obligatory; youngfamilies find that they have to live further away from their work toavoid mortgages that are excessive in relation to their income; andFIGURE 1: Lower Fraser Valley Population and TravelSource: GVRD Air Quality Management Plan, 1994.596the many opportunities offered our young people now, such as bal-let, music, skiing, skating, and horse-back riding to name a few, usu-ally involve parental car journeys. One might also note that justifi-able concern for the safety of children travelling alone generally re-sults in more vehicle use.The Greater Vancouver Regional District, in concert withthe Fraser Valley Districts and with the provincial government, hastaken some significant steps to try to reduce vehicle emissions. (SeeTable 2)  The AirCare initiative (generally ridiculed by the mediawhen it was introduced) has revealed that significant numbers ofnew cars have emissions higher than their design specifications; andthe correction of this in both old and new models has lowered emis-sions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. (See Table 3)  Effortshave been made to reduce single driver commuting trips byvan-pooling arrangements; and plans have recently been publishedfor more transit initiatives on an ambitious scale. As announced inTABLE 2The Greater Vancouver Regional District called for a planned 50% reduc-tion in emissions by the year 2000. Actions taken included:1. Major reductions in NOx emissions from Burrard Thermal (Natural Gas)Generating plant by introduction of catalytic technology2. Smaller reductions in NOx from refineries and cement manufacturingplants3. Introduction of AIRCARE Program (Mandatory Vehicle Emission Test-ing)4. Beginning of strategies to reduce vehicle miles travelled, including:- Transport Demand Management- Extension of electric Rapid Transit- Building of designated bicycle access routes5. Control of hydrocarbon fugitive emissions at gasoline handling plants597David BatesSeptember 1995, these call for extensions of rapid transit; expansionof the bus and trolley fleet from 930 to more than 1200; expansion ofthe articulated bus fleet from 21 to 160 by the year 2006; and othermeasures. In the circular I received there was no note of what frac-tion of these vehicles would be propelled by diesel engines; nor anynote whether buses fuelled by natural-gas are being considered toreduce pollution. It is surprising that such massive capital invest-ment as this, with profound implications for air quality, seems tooccur with little public input. Diesel vehicles are responsible for aconsiderable fraction of fine particle pollution. (See Figure 2)  It isthese particles, less than 10 microns in size, that have recently beenshown to be responsible for significant adverse health effects, so wehave a special reason to be concerned about them. Will all thesemeasures be sufficient to maintain our air quality?It all depends on what will happen to growth; but it seemslikely that the population of the Lower Mainland will continue toincrease (even if not at the hectic rate of the past few years), and thatTable Note: The small reduction in NOx emissions attained by the AIRCARE pro-gramme, compared to significant reductions in carbon monoxide (CO) and hy-drocarbons (HC) is evident.TABLE 3: AIRCARE Programme in British ColumbiaCalculated Emission ReductionsPollutant Emission Emission Emission Total (tonnes)Reductions Reductions Reductions1992-1993 1993-1994 1994-1995(tonnes/yr) (tonnes/yr) (tonnes/yr)HC 2,900 4,800 3,500 11,200 CO 36,000 68,000 50,000 154,000 NOX 95 460 225 780TOTAL 38,995 73,260 53,725 165,980598FIGURE 2 - Fine particulate emissions in the Lower Fraser Valley- 1990 (primary particulates only, excluding road dust)Figure Note: This figure is taken from the 1990 GVRD Emission Inventory. Thefine particle emissions from diesel vehicles constitute a disproportionate fractionof the total. PM10 refers to the particles less than 10 microns in size, and it is thesethat have been shown recently to be associated with significant adverse healtheffects, including premature mortality.Source: Province of B.C., Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, “CleanVehicles and Fuels for British Columbia - A Policy Paper,” April 1995, page 7.599David Batescar use will continue to increase disproportionately. If air pollutionis not to worsen, emissions per vehicle must be reduced as the size ofthe fleet increases. If air pollution is allowed to get worse, we willhave to meet increasing costs incurred as a result -- these includehuman health costs and reduced agricultural productivity.  Recentcalculations have shown that even at existing air pollution levels,these are far from negligible. One commonly hears detailed calcula-tions of what industry may have to spend to reduce air pollution,usually without any reference to what we are already having to payfor its consequences.We should also note that London, with a well establishedpublic transit system, had a remarkably severe air pollution episodein December 1991; and Paris, which also has a very good publictransit system, had a photochemical air pollution episode in the sum-mer of 1995 which attracted international attention. It is obviouslynot sufficient to expand public transit without dealing with emis-sions from vehicles.What more should we be doing? There are significant waysof reducing single occupant vehicle trips that we have not yet adopted;for example, our roads can be made more friendly to cyclists (onaccount of bad design, main access roads are too hazardous at themoment); and the filing of transport demand management schemesby major employers, can be mandated. We can urge the necessity ofintroducing some form of testing of heavy diesel vehicles (respon-sible, as they age, for a disproportionate amount of the fine particlepollution). We can hope that the Ballard Fuel Cell being developedin North Vancouver will provide a commercially competitive zeroemission bus (when it does so, we should insist that our transit au-thorities invest heavily in it). We can support the California initia-tive to mandate the introduction of zero emission cars (see Figure 3),and make sure that, if and when these become available, we are notdenied the opportunity to purchase them.  If they were competitivein price and maintenance costs, and if the infrastructure were to beprovided for them, I believe that many people would buy them forcommuting use. California has led the way in reducing vehicle emis-sions. Because of heavy vehicle density and many hours of sunlight,600their photochemical pollution is a more severe problem than ours.In most democracies, the government bureaucracies con-cerned with transportation, city planning, fuel licensing, and roadbuilding become very conservative and essentially defensive of allexisting arrangements. The automobile and its necessary infrastruc-ture are strongly subsidized in our society, and there are powerfulinterests that will urge that this situation should not be changed. TheFIGURE 3 - Comparison of Vehicle Emission StandardsFigure Note: LEV = Low emission vehicles: ULEV = Ultra-low emission vehicles:and ZEV = Zero emission vehicles.Source: Province of B.C., Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, “CleanVehicles and Fuels for British Columbia - A Policy Paper,” April 1995, page 22.601David Batesforce of public opinion can only be brought to bear on the inertia ofgovernments if persistent questions are put to our elected represen-tatives as to their plans of action -- and when they do take a usefulinitiative, we can be supportive of them. Complacency, or exclusiveattention to the lobbying by special interests, can only result in asignificant deterioration in our air quality in the years ahead. Indi-vidually, we can take steps to reduce the pollution for which we areresponsible; but it is also very important that we try to influence thelarger decisionmaking.A small step in the right direction in 1992 has been the for-mation of an Air Quality Advisory Committee by the Greater Van-couver Regional District; this has allowed the expression of informedpublic concern to be voiced at the appropriate level. Since we are alllikely to be inconvenienced if effective steps are to be taken (as weare by the annual cost of the AirCare test), public understanding ofthe necessity for such policies is essential.We share one major obstacle with every other region. Al-though effective planning to reduce air pollution requires that wethink of the whole region as one “airshed,” individual communitiesand municipalities are reluctant to relinquish any of their sovereigntyto permit effective land use planning and transportation policy forthe region as a whole.  “Growth without Pollution” is presumablywhat we mean when we talk about a “sustainable” environment. Thereis no doubt that a real threat to attaining this is the fiercely defended,autonomous decision-making of different parts of the whole.No one seems to have any solution to this problem; with theresult that whole regions can suffer a progressive deterioration in airquality because collaborative planning (with the inevitable constraintson individual decisionmaking this implies) did not occur.As the complexity of regional air pollution problems has be-come clearer, we have learned that solutions must be planned andimplemented at the local level. Dependence on a distant central gov-ernment for environmental protection has been, over the past fewyears, somewhat (some would say, entirely) discredited. This is whywe cannot evade our own responsibility for taking the necessary mea-sures to prevent an unacceptable degradation of our air quality.


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