Thursday, August 14, 2008

In Canada The price of smog: $1 billion each year:

OTTAWA - Smog this year will contribute to the premature deaths of 2, 700 Canadians and put 11,000 in hospitals, costing the economy and health-care system $1 billion, Canada's doctors say.

A report by the Canadian Medical Association calculates that deaths linked to air pollution will rise over the next two decades, claiming nearly twice as many lives each year and costing $1.3 billion annually in health care and lost productivity.

The study estimates that by 2031, more than 4,900 Canadians, mostly seniors, will die prematurely each year from the effects of polluted air.

Haze and smog obscure the Toronto skyline and waterfront on May 10, 2007.

Haze and smog obscure the Toronto skyline and waterfront on May 10, 2007.

Haze and smog obscure the Toronto skyline and waterfront on May 10, 2007.

Reuters/J.P. Moczulski

Ontario and Quebec will bear the brunt, with smog-related deaths soaring among aging baby-boomers and the chronically ill.

In Ontario, the number of premature deaths could double, to 2,200, from 1, 200 per year, while hospital admissions over the same period could jump by as much as 70 per cent. The annual health-care and economic costs could rise by as much as 30 per cent, to $740 million, from $570 million.

Quebec's mortality rate could rise by 70 per cent, from 700 a year to 1,200, while hospital admissions could spike by 50 per cent annually, costing the province 10 per cent more, or up to $290 million a year.

While smog can trigger lung problems, accounting for up to 40 per cent of hospital visits, heart attack and stroke are the real problems, responsible for more than 60 per cent of all air-pollution-related hospital admissions, the study found.

Pollutants such as nitrous oxide damage the heart by harming blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis, a disease that makes people susceptible to heart attack and stroke.

Besides the direct costs to the economy and the health system, the study tries to put a price on the poor quality of life and loss of life caused by smog-related deaths. With those estimated costs included, this year's total bill - in addition to the $1 billion estimate for economic and health-care costs - would amount to more than $10 billion. That figure would rise to $18 billion a year by 2031, with nearly $16 billion of that the price the doctors' association puts on lost lives.

But Gordon McBean, a renowned climatologist at the University of Western Ontario, questioned the accuracy of such estimates. While he praised the report and called most of its data sound, he said the attempt to put a price tag on lost life is problematic.

"Health-care costs you can do a reasonably good job quantifying, but quality of life and the actual value of life is a bit difficult,'' said

McBean, co-author of a recently published Health Canada report on the impact of climate change on human health. As a Canadian representative to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, McBean said the world's top experts have tried unsuccessfully to come up with similar estimates for the human cost of climate change.

"That became very controversial because the people who did it said, `Well, a North American is worth so many thousand dollars and an African is worth a small fraction of that.' And people like me didn't think that was acceptable,'' he said.

Given that climate change likely will lead to more smoggy days, the report does not exaggerate the level of anticipated deaths caused by air pollution, said McBean. "They're not overstating the problem. If anything, these are lowball estimates.''

Ottawa Citizen