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Beijing’s dreadful air pollution and next week’s Olympics are reminding everyone how much air pollution affects human health. Medical research keeps turning up more evidence- most recently, that people living in dirty air have more blood clots, and that pregnant women near expressways have more premature and underweight babies.

Beijing is battling its filthy air by temporarily shutting down factories and construction, and by forcing millions of commuters onto public transit. In Ontario, however, the current battle is over a growing gap between theory and reality – what pollution is our industry really causing?

Ontario is in the midst of a massive redesign of our air pollution regulations. Regulation 419/05 was passed in 2005, with substantial industry support, and will be phased in gradually until 2020.

However, those industries already subject to the new regulation have found it to be much more difficult and expensive than they expected. For example, businesses must use specified computer models to predict their air emissions. They do so, and conclude that they are in compliance. Years later, the ministry re runs the model, inserting ultra-conservative assumptions, and predicts that the company is out of compliance! In theory, these discrepancies can be resolved by the expensive process of monitoring actual emissions. Unfortunately, the Standards Development Branch also rejects monitoring results, if they conflict with its predictions.

As a result, the MOE has now issued draft Notices of noncompliance with Regulation 419 to a series of industries across the province, most already struggling with high fuel costs and the high Canadian dollar. The MOE proposes to resolve the disputes by further monitoring, but what good is more monitoring if the ministry won’t accept the results?

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