The Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium – CANUE

Photo source: CANUE

Canada is an urbanized country with over 80 per cent of Canadians living in urban areas and growing numbers of new immigrants that tend to settle in urban areas. To meet the need to learn how to design and modify cities to improve population health, the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) was established in June 2016. Continue reading

Sources of Fossil Fuel and Biomass Burning Black Carbon in Ontario

Source: Toronto Star

Black carbon (BC) particles are generated through incomplete combustion processes including combustion of fossil fuels and biomass. These two sources are most commonly from vehicles and residential wood burning for heating. BC has an overall warming effect on the global climate and long-term exposure to it has been associated with cardiopulmonary mortality.

Dr. Robert Healy, Senior Environmental Officer at The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, spoke about the Ministry’s work on assessing the sources of fossil fuel and biomass burning black carbon in Ontario at the SOCAAR Seminar on November 30th, 2016. Continue reading

Impacts assessment to support policy-making across scales: regional implications of global mercury policy

Source: CBS

Mercury is a toxic pollutant that poses risks to both human health and the ecosystem when emitted into the air and water. Public policies and treaties have been established in attempt to address these impacts. In the 1990s, Canadian policies targeting emissions from the metal production industry resulted in a reduction in mercury emissions. Recently, the United Nation’s Minamata Convention that was adopted in 2013 is expected to have shifts in the mercury emissions on a global scale. Continue reading

UofT PhD Students on exchange for UofT, CUHK, and UU tripartite research collaboration agreement

UofT PhD students on exchange at Utrecht University

UofT PhD students on exchange at Utrecht University

Two PhD students affiliated with SOCAAR have been on exchange at Utrecht University in the Netherlands since early October as part of a three way research collaboration between the University of Toronto, Utrecht University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The University of Toronto initiated its first ever tripartite research collaboration agreement last April.

Kerolyn Shairsingh is a PhD student with Professor Jeff Brook and Professor Greg Evans in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, while Joseph Okeme is a PhD student with Professor Miriam Diamond at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences. While at Utrecht, the two PhD students took part in an international workshop that Utrecht University hosted as part of the exchange. Professor Roel Vermeulen is the lead for this collaboration at Utrecht University. He had only positive comments about the two exchange students and was excited for the project to continue growing.

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Global and urban measurements of greenhouse gases

The flow of carbon between the atmosphere, oceans, and land is known as the Carbon Cycle. The cycle is influenced by changes in carbon sources and sinks: fossil fuel burning; land use changes; plant respiration and photosynthesis; ocean uptake and release. Carbon sources and sinks can be quantified and monitored for long term trends from atmospheric measurements of carbon dioxide.

Dr. Debra Wunch, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s School of the Environment & Department of Physics, presented the global and urban measurements of greenhouse gases at the October 5th SOCAAR Seminar.
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Organic chemistry associated with Oil Sands Production: From gas phase acidity to secondary organic aerosol formation

Photo source: Wikipedia

The Athabasca deposit in Alberta is the largest oil sand in the world and is a powerful source of Canadian energy. Over the last decade a lot attention has been paid to the environmental impacts of oil sands production. Primary emissions associated with oil sands activities have been the focus of past research but less is known about the reaction products of these emissions to the atmosphere. In the SOCCAR Seminar held on September 14, Dr. Liggio, a research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Air Quality Research Division, presented his research on the formation of organic acidity and secondary organic aerosol from oil sands activities. Continue reading

Are lower levels of CO2 but higher black carbon emissions worth the climate trade-off of fuel-efficient engines?

The adoption of fuel efficient engines like the spark ignition gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine has gained popularity recently because of increasing regulations on CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. In 2011, the United States Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards tightened to reduce CO2 emissions. Between 2009 and 2015 sales of new vehicles with GDI engines have increased from five to 46 per cent in the United States, as an alternative to the traditional port fuel injection (PFI). It’s projected that by 2020 over 50 per cent of vehicles will be equipped with GDI engines.

New research from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering show how GDI engines may emit lower levels of CO2 but more black carbon, a climate-warming pollutant. Continue reading

AirSENCE featured in the tenth issue of Success Stories

AirSENCE, a portable air pollutant sensor developed by Dr. Jeffrey Brook and Dr. Greg Evans, is profiled in the tenth issue of Success Stories. The publication is produced by AllerGen NCE Inc. (AllerGen), the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network—one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE).

Real-time fluctuations in air pollution levels can now be provided through a portable air quality monitor developed by Dr. Jeffrey Brook, a senior scientist at Environment Canada and an assistant professor at The University of Toronto (UofT), and colleague Dr. Greg Evans, a professor in Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at UofT.

Known as AirSENCE (Air SENsor for Chemicals in the Environment), the device can be mounted almost anywhere to give both indoor and outdoor air quality readings. The device consists of a panel of sensors to detect the levels of five common air pollutants: nitrogen oxides, ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter. Dr. Brook says AirSENCE is a smart device that can translate the air quality to give an overall estimate of one’s personal environment’s air quality health index (AQHI).

Before the device was developed, Dr. Brook and other researchers who wanted to better understand the impact of early life exposure to traffic pollution on the development of allergies and asthma in children relied on collecting questionnaires, biological samples, and detailed data on air pollutants, house dust and chemicals in the home.

Dr. Evans has likened AirSENCE to that of a souped-up smoke detector or carbon monoxide sensor that can measure multiple pollutants at once. The AirSENCE monitors were launched as a pilot project during Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. The monitors were placed near athletic venues across Toronto and hourly AQHI readings and concentrations of air pollutants over the previous three days could be viewed on an interactive online map.

The next field testing of AirSENCE will take place between 2016 and 2019 at the University of Peking and other sites across Beijing. Aside from being a top research institution, Dr. Evans says the decision to evaluate the monitors in Beijing was because of the growing interest in measuring pollution levels in China. Moreover, the Beijing results could be compared to the Canadian data.

Dr. Evans and Dr. Brooks envision that accurate information about air pollution could influence the zoning of new schools, daycare centers, and retirement homes in the future. The data may even be used to help individuals choose their routes to work, and give feedback on the air that’s being breathed in at any location.

Bridging cloud condensation nuclei activity and volatility of oxidized organic aerosol

In SOCAAR seminar held on April 6th Dr. Shunsuke Nakao, Assistant Professor at Clarkson University presented a theoretical framework used to study the aging of atmospheric organic aerosol.

Organic aerosol change (i.e. oxidize) as they age in the atmosphere and are nuclei for cloud formation. Having an understanding of the change in cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) activity of organic aerosol as they evolve overtime can be used to identify the impact of organic aerosol on the climate. Continue reading

The influence of clothing on exposure to methamphetamine, phthalates and nicotine

Aside from inhalation, exposure to indoor air pollutants through skin and oral routes can also be significant. Exposure through skin and oral routes become important for lower volatility chemicals like methamphetamine, phthalates, and nicotine. In the March 22 SOCAAR Seminar Dr. Glenn Morrison, a professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology, spoke about the influence of clothing on exposure to methamphetamine, phthalates and nicotine. Continue reading