Air Pollution in Canada

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Air pollution is one of the environmental issues facing communities in Canada. Air pollution problem in Canada arises from the accumulation of airborne compounds and biological matter in the atmosphere that causes harm to human lives, the environment, and the entire Canadian economy. In Canada, the factors that contribute to air pollution include the burning of fossils for energy that is used both domestically and running the industries. Fossil fuels constitute part of Canada's primary source of fuel for Canada's population even though the federal government is cognizant of the consequences that they have on the environment. The air pollution problem in Canada is a persistent problem due to climatic changes, an increase in urbanization, and the continued reliance on motor vehicles as the major source of transport (Wirth, 2000).

The Alberta Oil Sands, (large deposits of bitumen), is the main contributor to Canada's air pollution problem. Therefore, the air quality of Northern Alberta is much poorer than those of other areas with similar population densities. Other urban areas such as Toronto face environmental issues that are related to air pollution because of the industrial chemicals (Taylor & McMillan, 2013). The city of Montreal falls below the World Health Organization's endorsed maximum level of concentration of particulate substances in the air. Other cities such as Hamilton, Laval, Kamloops and Saskatoon also exceed the recommended maximum level of particulate matter in the air. The province of Quebec was considered the leading source of emission of fine particulate substances from the human activities in Canada, most of which arise from heating wood (Lavigne, Villeneuve & Cakmak, 2012).

History of Air pollution in Canada

Sulphur oxides were the first of the Criteria Air Contaminants (CACs) that received noteworthy attention from an environmental viewpoint. The scientific research studies in the 1970s decade started linking Sulphur dioxide to the acidification of the marine life forms in North America to show that long-range transit of Sulphur oxides was possible. Acid rain, which was caused mainly by Sulphur dioxide, was the main air pollution issue in Canada from during the 1970s and 1980s (Heck & Taylor, 2012). The first major domestic and international agreements on air issues in North America thus focused on issues of air pollution caused by Sulphur oxides and acid rain. However, prior to the domestic and international agreements on Sulphur oxides and acid rain in the 20th century, the Trail Smelter Case made sure that the issue of air pollution became a documented problem in Canada as early as the year 1896 when the first smelting plant was established (Taylor & McMillan, 2013).

As the smelter developed over the course of time, the locals started protesting over the smoke clouds, which led to the construction of a 100-meter-tall stack in 1920 to diffuse the gases further down the Columbia River Valley. This led to the damage of vegetation and crop cover on the United States side of the border, which was about 20 kilometers away (Heck & Taylor, 2012). Ultimately, the protests by farmers and residents of the state of Washington in America persisted so much that Franklin Roosevelt, the President of the US at the time, wrote a letter directly to Richard Bennett, the Prime Minister, who was the Canadian Prime Minister at the time. A special tribunal was thus set up to evaluate whether the Trail Smelter would be required to stop wreaking havoc to the State of Washington in the coming future (Unsworth & Ormrod, 2013).

Morris Katz, a chemist from the National Research Council, was required to examine the Trail Smelter Case from a technical viewpoint and his effort on the impacts of the smelter plumes on the vegetation cover national recognition. The special tribunal that was set up to handle the case reported its discoveries in the year 1941 in a momentous decision. It stated that no state had the right to use or allow the use of its land in a way that caused injury by smoke plumes to the land of another nation (Heck & Taylor, 2012). Both Canada and the US agreed to the outcome of the study, and 428,000 dollars was compensated to the farmers who were affected (Taylor & McMillan, 2013). Using a Sulphur recapture and an Air Quality Management system, the issue was partially solved. Another industry was created to change the waste Sulphur oxides to sulfuric acid and fertilizers. Presently, the Trail Smelter recovers close to 91 percent of the Sulphur dioxide that would have been released into the atmosphere. Even though the industry created to recover the dissipated Sulphur dioxide did no mark the end of the situation, it set several precedents for air quality management (Stern, 2014).

Stakeholders Involved

In October 2012, the ministers of environment excluding Quebec agreed to the implementation of the country-wide Air Quality Management System (AQMS) that was an all-inclusive approach to reduce the amount of air pollution in Canada. AQMS is a result of an unprecedented partnership by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and stakeholders, who have a duty to implement the system. Even though Quebec offers support to the goals of AQMS, it would not implement the System as it includes the federal industrial emission necessities that embody the Quebec clean Air regulation. However, Quebec works in collaboration with the other stakeholders in the development of other components of the system, most notably the air zones (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 2014).

Apart from the environment ministers, the national industry associations were also part of the stakeholders that take part in solving the Canadian Air pollution problem. First, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), which represents Canada's oil plants, oil sands, and natural gas plants has a crucial role to play in solving the air pollution problem. CAPP aims at advocating for and enabling economic competitiveness using safe environmental and socially responsible means. Secondly, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) that help in transporting Canada's unprocessed oil and natural gas from the production regions to the markets all over Canada. The US helps in enhancing operating superiority in the business environment to minimize the dissipation of dangerous fumes (Government of Canada, 2015).

Thirdly, the Canadian Fuels Association (CFA) helps in establishing guidelines for the safe handling of the petroleum products and providing information about the petroleum industry to the public. This helps in reducing the amount of gases emitted into the atmosphere as the public would be educated on the efficient means of using the petroleum products. The fourth association is the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association (CVMA) that represents Canada's largest car manufacturers. CVMA helps to ensure that the motor vehicles are made efficient such that they emit less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and are safe for the consumers. The fifth association is the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, which helps in reducing the emissions that lead to climate change and in international accountability (Government of Canada, 2015).

Resolution of the air pollution problem

In 1991, both Canada and the US, in an International Joint Commission, signed the Canadian-US Air Quality Agreement that states that the interstate air pollution can be minimized effectively through joint and coordinated action that provides for the control of the emission of air pollutants in both nations. The Air Quality Agreement set objectives and goals for the mitigation of air pollution that could be attained cumulatively by set dates. In addition, the Air Quality Agreement provided for practical and effective policy tools that could be used to reduce the rate of emissions of the gases (Stern, 2014).

Recent reports have shown that Canada has continued to reduce the emissions of Sulphur dioxide over the past 20 years thereby reducing the rate of acid rain. Ever since the agreement had been signed in the year 1991, the levels of Sulphur dioxide in Canada's atmosphere dropped by about 300 percent. Canada also managed to achieve the set goal of reducing the amount of nitrous oxide from the power plants. The provincial governments have taken more proactive roles in the reduction of air pollution in comparison to the federal governments. For instance, the country-wide Acid Rain Strategy was a collaborative effort of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and it set the specific standards and limits on the emission of Sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide produced by the industrial activities. The country-wide Acid Rain was a response to the southeastern Canada having the worst quality of air in the whole of Canada and a high rate of acid rain (Brook, 2010).

Community development strategies

Cities such as Ontario passed pieces of legislation and new regulations that helped to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. In the year 1998, the city of Ontario established the Emissions Trading Regulation that established the limitations on the amount of Nitrous and Sulfur oxides into the atmosphere from the electric sector (Taylor & McMillan, 2013). Secondly, the Drive Clean Program was introduced in 1999 to enforce compulsory vehicle inspection and maintenance with the aim of reducing smog. The city of Ontario also enforced a legislation that put a cap on the 7 main industrial sectors and another regulation updated the air standards to improve the environmental standards (Kozio?‚ & Whatley, 2016).

In addition, Ontario passed another directive in 2010 referred to as the Passenger Automobile and Light Truck Greenhouse Gas Emission, which introduced stringent standards for new cars prompting them to stay in line with the US national standards. The city of Quebec, just like Ontario, introduced the stringent standard in relation to air pollution. In the year 2011, Quebec introduced the Clean Air Regulation that enforced strict standards to reduce the emissions of nitrous and Sulphur oxides. The burners that would be used in the industries would have to be efficient such that they emit low levels of nitrous oxides. Moreover, Quebec requires every enterprise to report the emission of certain particulate matter in the atmosphere (Brook, 2010).


Besides the strict laws and regulations that have been passed by the provinces and the federal government, certain measures that every citizen in Canada can participate in to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere should be applied. First, the residents of any city should use public transportation systems, walk or ride bicycles instead of personal cars when it is safer to do so. Secondly, whenever possible, people Canadian citizens should use the alternatives to the fossil fuel-powered machines and motor vehicles. For instance, fishermen can try using rowboats or sailboats instead of motorboats when fishing, and for domestic purposes, other citizens can use the push lawnmowers instead of the gasoline-powered ones. Thirdly, for anyone buying cars, checking and considering the fuel efficiency when buying a car and keep them properly maintained is crucial. It is also crucial for all the Canadians to plant more trees to enhance the urban forest canopy and improve the quality of air.


The air pollution problem in Canada arises from the accumulation of airborne compounds and biological matter in the atmosphere causing harm to the human lives, the environment, and the entire Canadian economy. The Alberta Oil Sands, which are the large deposits of bitumen, are the main contributor to Canada's air pollution problem, making the air quality of North Alberta poorer than other areas with similar population. The Stakeholders that have been involved in solving Canada's air pollution problem include the environment ministers and the National Industrial Associations. The air pollution issue in Canada has mainly been solved through passing of stringent laws and regulations that control the emission of the greenhouse gases.


Brook, R. D. (2010). Clearing the air. Circulation, 121, 2331-78.

Canadian Council Of Ministers Of The Environment (CCME). AQMS. (2014).? Retrieved 10 December 2017, from

Government Of Canada. Key contacts and stakeholders - (2015).? Retrieved 10 December 2017, from

Heck, W. W., & Taylor, O. C. (Eds.). (2012). Assessment of crop loss from air pollutants. Springer Science & Business Media.

Kozio‚, M. J., & Whatley, F. R. (2016). Gaseous air pollutants and plant metabolism. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Lavigne, E., Villeneuve, P. J., & Cakmak, S. (2012). Air pollution and emergency department visits for asthma in Windsor, Canada. Canadian Journal of Public Health/Revue Canadienne de Sante'e Publique, 4-8.

Stern, A. C. (Ed.). (2014). Fundamentals of air pollution. Elsevier.

Taylor, E., & McMillan, A. (Eds.). (2013). Air quality management: Canadian perspectives on a global issue. Springer Science & Business Media.

Unsworth, M. H., & Ormrod, D. P. (2013). Effects of gaseous air pollution in agriculture and horticulture (No. 32). Butterworth-Heinemann.

Wirth, J. D. (2000). Smelter smoke in North America: the politics of transborder pollution. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas.

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Air Pollution in Canada. (2018, Dec 30). Retrieved June 19, 2024 , from

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