Air pollution in Peter-McGill : A concern out of thin air

Air pollution in Peter-McGill : A concern out of thin air

by Martin Paraire

This piece was submitted to the Citizen Journal project of the Peter-McGill Community Council. Please note that the opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of our organization. This project aims to create space for the voices of residents, students and friends of the neighbourhood through articles, photos, videos, and podcasts in any language. Are you interested in contributing? Contact us at benevolat@petermcgill.org!

Air pollution is a term that has been inscribed durably in the common psyche. Health professionals scolded it, promised to be brought down by local and national political entrepreneurs, dreaded by dense metropolis dwellers.

Though our neighbourhood isn’t subjected to the dire menace of smog very often, air pollution doesn’t need to attain such alarming levels to affect its inhabitants. Pollution works in mysterious ways, a toxic brew of gases and particles that infiltrates and damages bodies and minds.

Different measurement units allow to track pollution levels in the districts, both in terms of the general quality of air and descend in measurements of specific pollutants, Nitrogen dioxide, Ozone, and Atmospheric particles. 26 AQI (Air quality index) is considered the threshold for acceptable air quality, and 50 AQI is deemed unhealthy, referring to the City of Montreal’s regulation. 

Air pollution reported each hours, each day for three months.

In the past four months, on each first day of the month, the average air quality index passed much beyond 60 AQI. Such pollution levels endanger the well-being of the district’s residents as they return to neighbouring levels throughout the month. Observing the hourly AQI in the city center, many reported samples indicate good air quality. Nevertheless, acceptable level samples equal good ones and are paralleled by a non-negligible number of unhealthy levels. On numerous occasions, air pollution passes above acceptable pollutant air quality limits. Particular conditions within this sample show great value on the first day of the month due to winter smog on January 1st, 2022.

By analyzing specific pollutant concentrations in the air, we also see many Atmospheric Aerosol Particles in the districts. Although nitrogen dioxide and ozone concentrations are not indicating concerning levels, concentration in Atmospheric Aerosol Particles is damageable from 12 AQI.

Finding the culprit of bad air quality wouldn’t be the hardest of inquiry: Great Avenues piercing the district, Sherbrooke or St-Catherine, perpendicular to Peel Street or Park Avenue, channel a continuous parade of vehicles, small and large alike. The needed transportation within the city, the never-ending strain of the machines to keep the districts alive conducted in voracious combustion of hydrocarbons, releasing fixed nitrogen and aerosol particles. Nonetheless, electric vehicles or metros that serpentine below the ground are not innocent in the pollution of the district’s air. Frictions of brakes cause the emissions of aerosol particles and thus impact the community’s air quality. Thus, air pollution banes Peter-McGill district. Yet, bad air quality has sources beyond vehicular activities: soil patterns, season and high-rises constructions contribute to the level of pollution. 

Although expected due to the magnitude of activities in the district, this must not be a justification to drag on potential plans that would prevent exposing citizens to unhealthy air. Solutions are aplenty, and each remedy must play on the complex interaction between natural and anthropogenic conditions. One possible reinforcing factor in the air pollution is the lack of Green-Space in the Peter-McGill District:Although the District counts 44 green spaces within its’ boundaries, excluding the Mont- Royal Parc accounting for 220 hectares and the Mont-royal cemetery, which accounts for 66 hectares, only 16.157 hectares remain for the rest of the District.

Peter-McGill green spaces including Mount-Royal Park
Peter-McGill green spaces excluding Mount-Royal Park

Thus, excluding Mount-Royal Park, the density of greenery is 0.5 ha/1000 inhabitants, a very low rate considering the standard recommended by the Québec government is 5.5 ha/1000 inhabitants.

One key solution would be to promote the opening of public green spaces. However, with the lack of non-constructed spaces, new park openings are unlikely to be performed. Thus, space-intensive initiatives could include common green spaces on roofs or replacing parking spots with terraces.