Hamilton chokes on record smog levels
AQI hits 103 downtown in Ontario's worst day
Barry Gray, the Hamilton Spectator
The smog that hung over Hamilton
yesterday afternoon was the result of a thermal inversion.
|Devon Slater, the Hamilton Spectator
Air Quality Index
Nicole Macintyre- The Hamilton Spectator - Oct. 27, 2004
Hamilton gasped its way into history yesterday with the worst smog
advisory ever issued in Ontario.
The city hit a record 103 on the air quality index at 2 p.m.
A reading of more than 100 is considered very poor. It had never been
recorded in Ontario since the government began monitoring air quality
more than a decade ago. The previous record of 99 was reached last year
in Sault Ste Marie.
"It's quite serious," said John Steele, Ministry of Environment spokesperson,
who explained the poor air quality was a localized problem.
As other Ontario cities enjoyed a clear, sunny day, Steele said Hamilton
was overtaken by a thermal inversion. With the help of the escarpment,
a mass of warm air trapped cold air and all the city's pollutants in
"We're kind of living in our own soup," said McMaster professor Brian
McCarry, who chairs Clean Air Hamilton.
Thermal inversions are common in the spring and fall, he said. But
this one was particularly bad.
Thankfully for residents clutching their chests, inversions typically
pass quickly. By last evening air quality in downtown Hamilton had already
returned to acceptable levels.
While it's normally fair game to blame Americans for causing our bad
air days, McCarry said yesterday's smog advisory, which was the latest
in the season ever issued by the province, was of our own making.
"It's like (passing gas) in a tent," he said with a laugh.
The extreme smog warning should be a wake-up call about the amount
of pollution produced locally, McCarry said, advising residents not
to point their fingers at the steel plants too quickly.
"It's not just industry. A lot of it is cars and trucks."
A large amount of fine particulate matter, which comes from vehicles,
industry and road dust, was recorded in Hamilton's air yesterday.
The air quality index is based on carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide,
sulphur dioxide, total reduced sulphur and suspended particles. A reading
of less than 32 is good. Smog advisories are issued above 50.
Josie Hodder noticed the heavy air as soon as she walked outside yesterday
morning. After a recent trip to a mountain town in Europe where the
only industry was a bakery, she said she's noticed how bad the air is
"It's almost like you can't breathe," she said yesterday in the city's
core, where dirty smelling air clung in thick fog.
Rob Hall, director of the health protection branch, was struck by how
quickly the city's air became polluted.
At 10 a.m. the reading was just 23, a good reading on the air quality
index. By noon it had increased to 58 and hit 103 two hours later.
"It almost seemed explosive," said Hall.
Hamilton Mountain reached an AQI of 65 late yesterday afternoon.
West Hamilton topped out at 80.
While people suffering from respiratory conditions are always advised
to stay inside during smog advisories, Hall said yesterday's extremely
bad air quality likely affected more people than normal.
While people wouldn't have dropped dead in the streets, Neil Johnston,
epidemiologist at the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at
St. Joseph's Hospital, said the heavy smog would have easily escalated
respiratory conditions and increased hospital admissions yesterday and
perhaps even for the next couple of days.
"103 is...wow," he said dumbfounded by the reading. "That's incredible."
Hall said public health will be following up with the city's hospitals
to determine the impact of the smog warning. As of last night, emergency
rooms had not seen an influx of patients suffering from respiratory