Growth without Air Pollution: Vancouver and Elsewhere

Article excerpt

There are certain human failings that we all share (and are prepared to confess to in moments of candour). One of these is an inherent laziness when we know that we should take steps to prevent things from happening - crisis response often seems to be the most that we can manage.

The Lower Mainland knew that it had a serious air pollution problem when, on September 3rd, 1988 at 4 p.m., ozone levels in the Fraser Valley reached 212 parts per billion. Such a high level was totally unexpected. It is easy to miss such events because the highest ozone concentrations are reached some miles downwind from where the significant emissions - mostly oxides of nitrogen from transportation- occur. Not only is such a level of ozone deleterious to crops, but it will also adversely affect normal people. In a study of farm workers in the Fraser valley in the summer of 1993, it was shown that the ozone level (at about 70 parts per billion) was reducing their maximal lung function. (See Table 1)

Residents in the Fraser Valley have noticed the increase in days with limited visibility, particularly in the summer, and this is due to fine particle pollution. Those among us who would urge that no significant steps should be taken to curb air pollution until significant adverse effects have been demonstrated, must have been disconcerted to learn that adverse effects on people have also been shown to occur at the particle pollution levels we are now experiencing. How have these significant levels of ozone and particulate pollution come about?

TABLE 1: NOX Emission Inventory
(Total Lower Fraser Valley, 1985)

SOURCE                                         TONNES/YR

Light Duty Vehicles                               21,754
Heavy Duty Vehicles                                8,644
Other Mobile Sources                              14,235
                               Subtotal           44,633
Point Sources                                      6,789
Area Sources                                       3,342
                               Total              54,764

Table Note: The dominance of vehicles in the emissions of NOx is
apparent. NOx emissions are important because they are responsible
for the downwind formation of ozone and photochemical aerosols in
the summer, and it is these that are affecting the Fraser Valley.

Source: GVRD

This is easy to answer since, between 1985 and 1992, the population increased 20% and the trips by car drivers increased over 40%. [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] Vehicle miles travelled have consistently exceeded the growth in population. Cars have become progressively less polluting, but such increases in their use mean that the total emissions of pollutants increased. We don't have to look very far to answer the question of why people are driving more: with both parents working, car trips to Daycare Centres become obligatory; young families find that they have to live further away from their work to avoid mortgages that are excessive in relation to their income; and the many opportunities offered our young people now, such as ballet, music, skiing, skating, and horse-back riding to name a few, usually involve parental car journeys. One might also note that justifiable concern for the safety of children travelling alone generally results in more vehicle use.

The Greater Vancouver Regional District, in concert with the Fraser Valley Districts and with the provincial government, has taken some significant steps to try to reduce vehicle emissions. (See Table 2) The AirCare initiative (generally ridiculed by the media when it was introduced) has revealed that significant numbers of new cars have emissions higher than their design specifications; and the correction of this in both old and new models has lowered emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. (See Table 3) Efforts have been made to reduce single driver commuting trips by van-pooling arrangements; and plans have recently been published for more transit initiatives on an ambitious scale. …