Breathe Easy

What is “Breathe Easy”?

Breathe Easy is a community-level project to measure Ottawa’s air quality, inspired by the INHALE project in Toronto (Toronto Environmental Alliance) and Hamilton (Environment Hamilton). Partnering with the Ottawa chapter of Sierra Club Canada, the air quality of Ottawa’s arboretum will be compared to the air quality near daycares, schools and senior centres, where congregate the city’s most vulnerable residents. Volunteers will be asked to walk, roll, ride or run in all areas of the city while carrying an easy to use mobile air monitoring device that can be attached to bikes, wheelchairs, backpacks, scooters or baby strollers. Low-cost monitors are used to measure and map air quality with residents, supporting well-informed actions and helping to bring the topic of air quality to a wider audience, including city councillors and city staff.

The air quality data, matched with GPS coordinates, is uploaded to an online map. This tool will allow online users to identify both good and poor air quality areas in their neighbourhood. Identifying ‘hot spots’ across the city for air particulate, O3 and NO2 pollution is an important first step in sparking community dialogue around neighbourhood-level solutions designed to improve air quality and ultimately, quality of life.

Interactive online map

Click here to access the interactive online map, showing our air quality testing results *currently still under construction*!

Campaign Objectives

The goal of the “Breathe Easy” campaign is to promote citizen-led science, as well as inform the community about their local air quality. The final analysis will inform councillors and city staff with regards to the best way forward to commit to constant monitoring of Ottawa’s air. We are also looking to encourage engagement and ongoing conversations between city staff and residents regarding the development of solutions that can be co-created and co-led.

Monitoring sites

Throughout the summer months, Ecology Ottawa staff and volunteers will monitor 40 sites – 20 Site A’s, and 20 Site B’s for comparison. The Arboretum will be the baseline data set.

Each site will be monitored four times in order to ensure the natural variations of regular air quality are accounted for in our analysis, as well as ensure standardization of our air quality readings.

Health and environmental impacts of poor air quality

Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter where you live. The Government of Canada estimates that 14,600 premature deaths per year in the country can be linked to air pollution from fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Air pollution can negatively affect your lungs and heart and high levels of air pollution may also increase the risk of stroke or developing asthma. Indeed, one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.

The natural environment also suffers from air pollution. The primary effect of the deposition of particle matter (mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air that includes aerosols, smoke, fumes, dust, ash and pollen), on vegetation can reduce plant growth and productivity. It therefore deteriorates natural habitats and impacts the survival of many animal species. Not only does air pollution impact plant primary productivity it has also been linked to acid rain production and is one of the main drivers of global climate change.

How can we advocate for control of particulate matter pollution in Ottawa?

Particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of both solid and liquid particles emitted from construction dust, electrical plants and various other chemical reactions. Particulate matter varies in size and the most common are PM2.5 and PM10.

Did you know that construction activities alone represent approximately 20% of Canada’s totally particulate matter emissions?

How can we limit the amount of PM emissions from construction in our city?

  1. Advocate for the required use of water dust control methods at all construction sites;
  2. Limit the use of chemical dust suppressants that may cause waste-water contamination issues;
  3. Implement “wind fencing” using trees, shrubs, snow and burlap fences or hay bales;
  4. Use “green” building materials;
  5. Minimize traffic congestion with detouring of vehicles around construction sites;
  6. Re-planting of vegetation that was removed from construction site;
  7. Eliminate all open-burning of vegetation or construction materials;
  8. Avoid blasting of demolition sites at all costs, or use vacuum cleaning devices prior to blasting operations.
What about NO2 and O3?

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gaseous air pollutant produced from vehicular traffic and fossil fuel combustion. Once in the atmosphere, it aids in the formation of ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM).

Transportation is responsible for 50% of nitrogen dioxide emissions, followed by the petroleum industry (22%) and electricity generation (10%).  Ground-level ozone is formed in the atmosphere through the reaction of NO2, volatile compounds and sunlight. Forest fires, the petroleum industry and transportation are some of the top Canadian sources of O3.

So how does the Breathe Easy campaign help Ottawa make changes to the city’s air quality?

  1. As individuals, we can choose active transportation such as walking or rolling instead of driving a vehicle;
  2. Use alternatives to chemical and nitrogen based fertilizers in your gardens such as: cottonseed meal, composted manure, and alfalfa pellets; 
  3. Opt for public transit or carpooling;
  4. Eliminate all engine idling;
  5. Advocate for safer and more accessible bike lanes.
Listen to the webinar with Lynda Lukasik and Heather Marshall

Community-led science in action

This project was made possible thanks to the following partnerships: