In the early 2000s, the Ontario government issued a promise to completely phase out coal by 2015. Last year, Thunder Bay Generating Station closed its doors for the last time, and with it Ontario began a coal-free era. All clean sources of electricity were required to ensure this goal was achieved, including additional generation from renewables and conservation.

The bulk of this generation — 70 percent of what was required to shut down coal — came from a power generation site on the shores of Lake Huron, which as of 2013 has restarted four dormant nuclear units. A year on, an increase in air quality is being felt by those who suffer with asthma and other lung health issues. 

Burning fossil fuels releases harmful emissions that significantly impact human health. “For people with asthma, air pollution is a significant contributor to exacerbation or asthma attack,” says Noah Farber, Acting President and CEO at the Asthma Society of Canada. “Each person with asthma will have slightly different triggers, but across the board, we see a significant impact of air pollution on lung health.”

The link between climate change and lung health

The release of carbon dioxide, an air pollutant released from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, has had a significant impact on global warming and climate change. Eighty percent of asthmatics also suffer with allergies such as pet dander, smoke, mould, and seasonal allergies. With global warming comes longer and more intense allergy seasons.

"Burning fossil fuels releases harmful emissions that significantly impact human health.”

“Year over year, we’re seeing that allergy seasons start earlier and last longer,” says Farber. “We believe it is attributable to climate change.”

The hidden cost of air pollution

An increase in air pollution and lung health issues places a burden on Ontario’s health care system. In 2008, the Canadian Medical Association conducted a study reviewing the economic cost of air pollution and estimated that increased hospital and emergency room admissions, doctor’s office visits, and minor illnesses due to air pollution added up to over $8 billion in cost a year.

In removing coal from our energy supply, we are seeing a decrease in admissions and an increase in health care savings.

One of the most tangible benefits of Ontario’s coal phase-out, however, can be seen in the number of smog days experienced in the province. In 2005, prior to the phase-out, there were 53 smog days in Ontario. In 2014, there were zero. Much of this success was made possible by Ontario’s nuclear industry.

An emission-free future

There is little doubt that the province’s move away from fossil fuel energy sources has added up to cleaner air, improved public health, and provincial health care savings. Continued investment in both renewable energy and nuclear power can ensure cleaner air for all Ontarians.

“Focusing on emission-free or carbon-free energy sources will mean clean air for the people of this province to breathe,” says Farber.