Go outside and take a deep, healthy breath – a recent World Health Organization study determined Nanaimo has some of the cleanest, most breathable urban air in the world.
On Monday, the global health organization released its list of measurements ranking 1,100 cities in 91 countries for air quality between 2003 and 2010. Canada finished third in the world for best air quality, tied with Australia, while Nanaimo finished in the Top 10 for all cities.
Seven other Canadian cities made the overall Top 10, including B.C. communities of Terrace, Nelson, Kitimat and Burns Lake. Whitehorse proved to have the freshest air in the world for any urban centre, while Corner Brook, N.L. and Fredericton residents also enjoy relatively clean air.
Only the eastern European nation of Estonia and Mauritius, a tiny nation east of Madagascar, fared better overall than Canada, which registered an overall rating of 12.7, far better than the international average of 71.
Ahvaz, Iran ranked the worst city, with 372 micrograms of PM10 per cubic metre, while Nanaimo was measured at six.
The recommended acceptable level for urban centres is 20 micrograms per cubic metre.
In the report, WHO expresses concern over the worldwide prevalence of PM10 particles, which are particles of 10 micrometers or less that can penetrate the lungs and may enter the bloodstream causing respiratory problems and other diseases in humans, including heart disease, lung cancer and asthma.
Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said the findings are a tip of the hat to local industry and proves that industry and clean air can co-exist.
“It’s a huge success for us and I think really, it addresses what I would like to think is a very responsible industrial community in Nanaimo,” said Ruttan. “When you look at our big industrial companies like Nanaimo Forest Products and Coastland mills, these are companies that can generate a certain amount of materials and yet maintain clean, breathable air.”
He added that clean air is just one more attribute Nanaimo can add to its list.
“We’ve been given the accolade of having the greatest street in Canada, we placed third in a report out of England connected with the London Times out of cities of about 100,000 people in all of North America for infrastructure readiness and fifth for quality of life. Adding clean air as another benefit, it speaks volumes to attracting people to live in Nanaimo.”
Ruttan said the recent accolades, all of them received in 2011, will be included in future economic development packages.
WHO used provincial static monitoring stations that are located throughout most urban centres. Nanaimo has two – one at Labieux Road and one at the Harmac mill.
While Nanaimo’s air quality is generally excellent, Rob Lawrance, the city’s environmental planner, said some pockets of Nanaimo can experience unhealthy air when conditions are right.
“A provincial mobile monitor was used in Nanaimo and it was found that there are some locations here, depending on weather conditions, depending on time of year, where air quality is not necessarily great,” said Lawrance.
He attributes those pockets mostly to wood smoke and vehicle pollution, which can accumulate in some areas of the city during an inversion in colder months.
According to WHO, air quality is mostly affected by motor transportation, industry, burning of biomass and coal for cooking and heating, and household wood burning.
In Nanaimo, a wood stove exchange program through the city has been successful, increasing the amount of more efficient and cleaner wood burning stoves in Nanaimo, said Lawrance.
WHO performed the study to highlight concerns over deteriorating urban air quality across the globe, adding that very few cities meet its acceptable levels of air pollution. It said 1.3 million people die annually from air quality issues, 2,400 of them in Canada.
Other cities in Canada