UW-based NERAM launches plan to fight air pollution

WATERLOO, Ont. (Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007) -- A University of Waterloo-based research network says scientific evidence of the effects of air pollution on human health and the environment is clear enough to support global efforts to continue reducing outdoor levels.

The Network for Risk Assessment and Management (NERAM) has developed with international experts a 12-point plan -- parts of which have been adopted in Europe -- to fight air pollution and improve public health. The plan, a policy guidance document on air quality management for local, regional and national policy-makers, is the result of a five-year NERAM colloquium series.

"It is now universally recognized that poor air quality has adverse impacts on human health and research confirms that residents in Southern Ontario and other parts of Canada are exposed to levels of air pollutants associated with morbidity and mortality," says UW professor emeritus John Shortreed, executive director of both NERAM and UW's Institute for Risk Research.

"The University of Waterloo has done five years of work in translating research from around the world for use in policies to improve health. We are ready to battle the No. 1 environmental killer -- air pollution."

The plan reflects the latest thinking of policy-makers and health researchers from around the world. The fifth and final colloquium was held in October in Vancouver.

Research shows that both short-term and long-term exposures to particulate matter and other air pollutants are statistically associated with serious human health effects, including premature death, heart-and breathing-related hospital admissions and emergency room visits, together with a worsening of asthma conditions.

"Scientific evidence of the effects of air pollutant exposure on human health and on the environment is strong enough to justify global efforts to continue to reduce outdoor concentrations, even in locations that meet air pollutant standards," Shortreed says.

He adds that Europe and Britain are already implementing the interim policies proposed by the NERAM colloquium series held in Rome in 2003 and in Mexico in 2005 to deal with hot spots, such as high traffic areas in cities like Toronto.

"They are using an innovative approach to regulations that actually allow some locations to exceed air quality standards, while imposing area-wide reductions that have many more health benefits -- the result is more health outcomes for existing regulatory resources."

Shortreed says that air pollution typically causes a white, yellow or brown haze that reduces visual range, affecting people's ability to enjoy their surroundings. In places like Hong Kong, for instance, the impaired visibility caused by haze or smog is used as a means to show the public the link between high air pollution concentrations and increased health costs.

Topics covered in the NERAM document include air quality and human health, emission inventories, air quality management approaches and evidence of effectiveness, as well as challenges and opportunities in air quality management. The document can be viewed at
The plan includes the following strategic policy directions for air quality management:

* Communication of health effects is key to increasing public awareness and demand for air quality management policies.

* Increase awareness of linkages between air quality and climate change.

* Cross-sectoral policies in energy, environment, climate, transport, agriculture and health.
* Exposure reduction and continuous improvement policies are important extensions to ambient air quality standards.

* Reducing exposure to combustion-generated particles should be a priority, such fossil fuels and biomass.

* Evidence is sufficient to justify policies to reduce traffic exposures.

* Prioritize pollutants and sources based on the potential for exposure.

* Policies focused on improving visibility may gain greater support than those focused solely on health.

* International harmonization of measurements and metrics, emission inventories, modelling tools, assessment of health effects literature and health-related guidelines.

* More research on toxicity-determining characteristics of particulate matter and more evaluation of local, regional and global policies.
Shortreed says there are many epidemiological (human population) studies carried out in North America and Europe that have demonstrated statistically significant ties between ambient levels of particulate matter and other air pollutants and a variety of human health problems, including death and hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

NERAM has already started a regional initiative in the Greater Toronto Area along with Pollution Probe to apply some of the research results in order to tackle the thousands of premature deaths every year in Ontario.

The main goal of NERAM is to integrate the scientific knowledge and expertise that exists across many diverse disciplines in Canada, thereby providing a comprehensive approach to environmental risk assessment and risk management. As a result, there will be more effective and efficient environmental protection practices.

Useful Links:

Conference Statement

Introduction to Colloquium Series (Powerpoint Presentation)

Guidance Documents and Presentation


John Shortreed, NERAM, 519-885-4027 or

Lorraine Craig, NERAM, 519-579-6022 or

Quentin Chiotti, Pollution Probe, 416-926-1907 or

John Morris, UW media relations, 519-888-4435 or


John Shortreed 519-885-4027
Last Updated: January 13, 2009
© IRR-NERAM 2003