Air Pollution Debate in Ontario Continues

Toronto's Board of Health is urging the Ontario government to reduce sulphur\r\ndioxide emissions by converting nearby coal-burning power plants to\r\nnatural gas.

Toronto''s Board of Health waded into the debate over air pollution Monday, by urging the Ontario government to reduce poisonous sulphur dioxide emissions by converting nearby coal-burning power plants to natural gas.

Located only 100 kilometers southwest of Toronto, The Nanticoke Generating Station emits large amounts of sulphur dioxide -- a major component of smog.

Ontario''s coal-fired plants are a major bone of contention between the province, the federal government and the Untied States.

Last week, Ottawa criticized the province for dragging its heels on converting its five dirty coal-fired power plants to cleaner burning natural gas or other less polluting fuels.

Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto''s medical officer of health, said Monday the province must respond directly to concerns raised by the Attorney General for the State of New York about Ontario''s coal-fired plants.

"Given the importance of bilateral negotiations between Canada and the United States on reducing air pollution, I am asking the Board of Health to urge the Premier to ensure the conversion of the Nanticoke plant," said Basrur.

Last week, federal Environment Minister David Anderson sent a strongly worded letter to the Ontario government, voicing his "deep concern about the lack of progress in converting coal-fired power generation plants in Ontario," and called on the province "to move forward on an accelerated program."

Ontario Environment Minister Dan Newman quickly lashed back, saying the province was committed to smog reduction and its reduction targets and timetables are well ahead of most American jurisdictions.

Canada and the United States will meet in August to try to reach an agreement to reduce transboundary air pollution that contributes to ozone level depletion on both sides of the boarder.

Under rules adopted by the U.S. EPA, coal-fired power plants in the United States will have to reduce ozone producing emissions to rates three to four times lower than those in Ontario.

A report to the Board of Health shows that in 1998, the Nanticoke Station emitted 11 times as much sulphur dioxide as was emitted from the entire city of Toronto in 1995.

"Ontario must be willing to offer reductions in air emissions that are equal to or better than the commitments being made by the United States," said Basrur.

Recent reports by both Toronto Public Health and the Ontario Medical Association have documented the negative economic and health impacts resulting from hospitalizations to premature deaths caused by smog.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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