Press releases

Monday 12 Oct 1998

Environment-Canada: Pollution at Lethal Level

8 October 1998 Ottawa - As many as 16,000 Canadians are dying prematurely every year from air pollution, and global warning is increasing that toll, according to a new environmental study released today.

The report shows that, per capita, Canadians are now the world's highest consumers of fossil fuels. It was compiled by two medical doctors and an expert on air pollution, commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO) that funds academic research into environmental issues.

"The scientific and medical evidence presented in this report is disturbing and speaks for itself," said Jim Fulton, executive director of the Suzuki Foundation.
He said the report, "Taking our Breath Away: the Health Effects of Air Pollution and Climate Change," proves the links between climate change and air pollution.

The common source of the problem is fossil fuels used by industries, automobiles and home heating, Fulton said.

Canada was described at last year's Kyoto conference on climate change as the second-largest per-capita creator of greenhouse gases. The new report says Canadians have moved into first place in the past year aided by tumbling oil and gas prices since the early 1980s.

"Canada now consumes more energy than the entire continent of Africa. There are now 700 million people in Africa and 30 million people in Canada," Fulton said. "Canadians need to focus on how we can get our legislators to pay attention to this issue and start bringing forward the common sense, logical, economically beneficial and appropriate steps to deal with this problem."

Not only are extreme weather events connected, but "they're connected to declining food security here in Canada and worldwide," Fulton said. "It raises the risks of epidemic diseases, particularly those that are water-borne, and it links those to air pollution to early death, to the connection between climate change and air pollution and fossil fuels."

Fulton said the figure of 16,000 deaths is "just the tip of the iceberg. We can calculate the number per day, the number per week, the number per year, but that masks what's really going on in terms of the health of Canadians, both young and old, those who are coming in contact with large amounts of airborne contamination, as well as those who are getting more of what used to be cal led fresh air."

John Last, senior epidemiologist on the study and former editor of the Canadian Royal College of Surgeon's medical journal which issued a warning last year on climate change, said Canada's government and those of other countries should not ignore the warnings in the report.

"The people at the beginning and the end of the age spectrum are the ones who are most affected. It is a problem that travels across national boundaries, across seas, to every nation on earth," he said. Non-governmental organizations (NGO) applauded the report's findings.

Graham Chance, Chairman of the Canadian Institute of Child Health, said, "the foetus and new-born child is particularly vulnerable to the changes taking place in their environment." Moreover, they have no control over it.

"The fact that this report documents carefully both the data which supports the evidence, and all the evidence that we need to recognize that we are rapidly mortgaging our children's futures.

The fact is that the environment that children live in is their environment, not ours. Young people need this kind of information to challenge adults when they see them destroying the world," he said.

Chance said that Canadians need to stop being "energy gluttons." "People use the excuse that Canada is a cold country. So are the Scandinavian countries. But in places like Norway, people simply put on extra clothes when they are cold, or sleep with more blankets on their bed," Chance said. "Here , if people are cold, they just turn up the heat. This is an awful record. We have nothing to be proud of."

Fred Ruff of the Canadian Public Health Association said the pollution survey is "a very important report. It speaks to many of the underlying issues that public health is concerned about, and we are throwing our full weight behind it.

"They talk about 16,000 deaths and air pollution. What about the increase in asthma rates? What about the increase in school absenteeism? What about the lo ss of productivity of people being away from work? If you talk about the total costs of climate change, not just measured in deaths, illnesses. Disabilities, loss to the health care system, that's how you measure this.
"And you have to look at this globally, holistically," Ruff said.

Judy Leitch, a board member of the Canadian Lung Association, who practices as a respirologist in Ottawa, said, "you can no longer pretend to be able to stop pollution at the borders. The issue was brought home to me personally when I went to Malaysia last year and saw the effects of global warming (such as forest fires and drought). When air pollution and climate change mix, nobody can get away from it," she said.

Monday 12 Oct 1998
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