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Air Quality Management in Manitoba

Winnipeg generally enjoys excellent air quality compared to other cities of similar size in Canada. Air quality concerns in Manitoba usually tend to be of a localized nature, where an activity has an impact only on local people and their environment. Some of these impacts may include the presence of odours, noise and other air pollutants. The sources for these and other airborne pollutants include industrial operations, vehicle emissions, man-made substances released to the atmosphere and other specific activities.

This information bulletin focuses on various issues the Province of Manitoba is presently concerned with, such as: vehicle emissions, ground level ozone (smog), stratospheric ozone (the ozone layer), global warming and acid rain. Each section identifies the problem area, discusses the nature of the problem and highlights actions that have been taken or are planned by the Province.

Vehicle Emissions

Automobiles are a major contributor to air pollution. Pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile hydrocarbons come from vehicle exhaust. Keeping vehicle pollution prevention devices in proper working order helps reduce vehicle emissions. In addition, a well-maintained vehicle operates more efficiently and costs less to run.

Many provinces have legislation making it illegal to tamper with vehicle pollution control devices. Manitoba does not have such requirements, as yet. However, the Province will be participating with other provinces and the federal government soon to ensure that Manitoban's approach to vehicle emission standards will be consistent with other jurisdictions.

In the mid-1990s, the federal government plans to further restrict vehicle emissions dealing with nitrogen compounds (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Canada's goal is to follow the same standards and timetable as in the U.S., resulting in emission reductions at the earliest possible date.

Ground Level Ozone (Smog)

Smog (consisting mostly of ground level ozone) is a product of sunlight reacting with a mixture of compounds (NOx and VOC) producing a 'haze' effect. Smog is caused mainly by automobile emissions and it is the greatest source of airborne pollutants in many cities today. Ozone, at the ground level (smog) is harmful to the environment since it can affect human health, damage certain vegetation and degrade materials.

Smog is rarely seen in Winnipeg because the city is windy and prolonged temperature inversions are not common. The local flat terrain enables the compounds to be mixed and diluted, unlike valleys and mountains which restrict such dispersion.

Stratospheric Ozone (The Ozone Layer)

Ozone in the upper atmosphere is beneficial since it filters unwanted ultraviolet radiation from the sun which can affect human health, as well as damage certain vegetation and aquatic life.

CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are just one of the many man-made ozone depleting substances causing the destruction of the 'ozone layer' (located 15 to 40 kilometers above the earth). CFCs are a man-made substance used for air conditioning, refrigeration and a wide variety of other manufacturing processes. Although emissions of CFCs will eventually be reduced through legislative measures, the impact of these man-made substances on the ozone layer will continue for many years because of the longevity of these gases in the atmosphere.

Manitoba is the leader in ozone depletion legislation in Canada. As of July 1, 1992 only certified technicians may charge, recharge, service and repair refrigeration and air conditioning units in Manitoba (5,000 certified technicians have been trained, to date, in the province). Having only certified trained service technicians work on various systems ensures the recovery of ozone depleting substances for reuse, recycling, reclamation or recovery for destruction.

Global Warming

The earth's climate is far from stable. Climatic changes have resulted from an interplay of natural forces: variation in the sun's energy output, volcanic eruptions and an ever changing atmosphere being modified by evolving life forms. The earth's heat balance is currently being affected by the man-made addition of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and CFCs. The result is global warming due to an enhanced "greenhouse effect".

The "greenhouse effect" occurs naturally, warming the earth and making habitation possible. Global warming occurs when this natural process has been altered by human activities over the years.

Canada has established a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000 to similar levels as in 1990. Less than 3% of Canada's carbon dioxide emissions are generated in Manitoba; the use of fossil fuels for transportation accounts for most of these emissions. Manitoba has recently completed a comprehensive inventory of the sources of greenhouse gases in the Province for 1990. Additionally, Manitoba is cooperating with other jurisdictions to seek ways and means of meeting the national emissions goal.

Acid Rain

The primary pollutants in the formation of acid rain are sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. They combine with moisture in the atmosphere to produce sulphuric acid and nitric acid. Sulphur dioxide is emitted from such installations as the two smelters in northern Manitoba (Flin Flon and Thompson). Nitrogen oxides are generated from such sources as automobile emissions and all other kinds of fossil fuel combustion or burning of fossil fuels.

Acid rain is not a problem in Manitoba since acidity of precipitation is not generally elevated and since much of the soils and surface waters have a buffering capacity to neutralize such deposition. However, as part of a program to reduce acid rain in Eastern Canada, Manitoba is working towards reducing its sulphur dioxide emissions. This will assist in an overall national program and ensure a continued healthy environment for Manitobans.

Summary

We must be responsible towards our environment to preserve it for present and future generations. Pollution prevention measures will help to ensure the health and well-being of future generations. Manitoba is committed towards ensuring that our good air quality will be maintained and protected.

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Additional information about Air Quality in Manitoba can be obtained from:

» Manitoba Conservation Air Quality Section, (204) 945-7100
» Conservation & Environment Library On-line Database