Government of New Brunswick

Even New Brunswick's relatively limited industrial base, low population, and cool sea breezes don't protect us from smog. Get the facts on smog by reading the following information. It will tell you how smog forms, its effects on human health and the environment, what is being done about smog, and what you should do when smog levels are elevated.

What is Smog?

Smog is a mixture of pollutants with ground-level ozone being the main culprit. Unlike most pollutants, ground-level ozone is not emitted directly, but forms in the air when strong sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Nitrogen oxides are mainly the result of burning fossil fuels in our vehicles, industries and power plants. Volatile Organic Compounds are produced by fuel combustion and by the evaporation of liquid fuels and solvents.


Good and Bad Ozone

High in the stratosphere, far above the earth's surface, the natural ozone layer protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. Studies have revealed that the release of certain Ozone Depleting Substances have caused the ozone layer to thin, and steps have been taken to restrict the release of these substances to protect the ozone layer. Unlike the natural ozone layer, however, ground-level ozone is the result of a chemical reaction that takes place just above the earth's surface and is harmful to human health.


Why Do We Hear More About Smog in the Summer?

On hot and sunny summer days, the combination of slow-moving air and strong sunshine speed up the formation of ground-level ozone. As a result, ground-level ozone is not typically a problem pollutant during cooler months, but is more common in hot, hazy summer weather. Such haze may build up over several days and result in a "photochemical smog." Ground- level ozone concentrations tend to be highest when the sun's intensity is at its maximum in mid-afternoon.


Does New Brunswick Have a Smog Problem?

New Brunswick sometimes experiences periods of poor air quality, primarily due to pollutants coming from far away. Major weather systems come to us from the west and up the Atlantic seaboard, bringing pollutants into our region from the more industrialized and densely populated areas of the United States and Central Canada. This long-range transport effect is significant for ground-level ozone as well as for acid rain and fine particulate pollution.

Once the pollutants arrive in our province, geography and weather come into play. Particularly in the southern part of the province, cool sea breezes from the Bay of Fundy can slow the dispersal of pollutants and concentrate air pollution close to ground level. The polluted air may travel offshore and return inland, possibly more than once, leading to episodes of reduced air quality. Because the formation of ground-level ozone depends on weather conditions, the severity of smog can vary greatly from one year to the next. Significant ozone episodes in New Brunswick occur on average about six times per summer.


The Effects of Smog

Ground-level ozone irritates the lungs and can make breathing difficult. Some individuals, especially those with heart and respiratory conditions, are affected at lower levels. If you have concerns about the effect of ground-level ozone on your health, you should consult with your physician. Ground-level ozone can also cause damage to sensitive crops such as potatoes and tomatoes, cause noticeable damage to forests and other vegetation, and weaken rubber and attack metals and painted surfaces.


What is Being Done About Smog?

In 1979, New Brunswick was the first province in Canada to offer an Index of the Quality of the Air (IQUA) program. Since then, several other provinces have adopted it as a way of making air quality information available to the public. The IQUA index rates air quality on a scale from 0 to 125, from good to very poor, by measuring a variety of pollutants continuously, 365 days a year, at various locations across the province. To make IQUA information available to as many people as possible, so that they can make appropriate decisions to protect their health and plan their activities, recorded messages are provided as part of Environment Canada's telephone weather forecast system. Messages are normally updated two or three times each day, or more often if air quality is poor. In Saint John, call 636-4991; in Moncton, 851-6610; in Fredericton, 451-6001.

In terms of action on standards, the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME), of which the New Brunswick Department of Environment is a member, is a forum for action on national and global environmental issues. A key CCME initiative is the NOx/VOC Management Plan aimed at resolving ground-level ozone problems in Canada by the year 2005. The federal government is also working nationally and internationally to implement agreements that will improve air quality in Canada.

Here at home, New Brunswick's approach to NOx/VOC management will take the form of a plan for implementing new ground-level ozone and other guidelines for pollutants, such as the Canada-Wide Standards (CWS). The Department of Environment makes a variety of air quality resources available, including information on air quality monitoring. In addition, New Brunswick's Clean Air Act enables you to comment on the province's air quality objectives and standards and on the Air Quality Approvals that govern the operation of major industries.


The New Brunswick Smog Forecast Program

The New Brunswick Departments of Environment, and Health and Wellness, work with Environment Canada's environmental prediction specialists to provide a daily smog forecast to residents of New Brunswick from May to October. Environment Canada is responsible for producing and disseminating the smog forecast through their regular weather broadcasts, the internet, and recorded weather information telephone lines.

Since recent research indicates that even low levels of smog can have an effect on human health, regular forecasts enable individuals, particularly those with respiratory or heart conditions, to make informed decisions about their activities and protect their health. The provincial Department of Health and Wellness will issue a public health advisory when ground-level ozone levels are expected to exceed established guidelines. Advisories may be heard along with regular weather broadcasts on the radio.


What You Should Do When Air Quality is Poor

Some particularly sensitive individuals may feel the effects of smog sooner and may wish to adjust their activities accordingly. Those individuals should consult with their physician for advice that is specific to their needs. When you hear a smog advisory, you should reduce the amount of time you spend outdoors, particularly in the afternoons and early evenings. Children tend to be more sensitive than adults because they breathe faster and spend more time outdoors. Reduce your child's exposure by encouraging outdoor activities early in the day when smog levels are lower. People with heart and respiratory problems should stay indoors if possible. Finally, limit activities that contribute to air pollution, such as taking unnecessary trips in the car, and using gas-powered machinery and solvent-based paints. Reducing your use of electricity is also an effective means of contributing to improved air quality.