Toronto, ON – Air pollution in the tar sands regions was at levels above what the Alberta Government considers safe, known as ‘exceedances’, 1,556 times in 2009, according to a new report released today by Environmental Defence.  Dirty Oil, Dirty Air: Ottawa’s broken pollution promise also found that Alberta’s air pollution standards are weaker than other jurisdictions.

“Three years ago, Prime Minister Harper promised to put mandatory caps on particularly harmful air pollution from industry,” said Gillian McEachern, Program Manager, Environmental Defence. “But with still nothing in place to clamp down on pollution, tar sands companies are pumping more and more dangerous pollutants into the air.”

The report looked at the trends in industry-reported emissions of key pollutants between 2002 and 2008, and trends in the amount of pollutants measured by air monitoring equipment in the air around the tar sands. The pollutants included nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds like benzene, which are linked to asthma, bronchitis, nausea, premature death in people with heart disease, and cancer. The Canadian Medical Association estimates that 21,000 Canadian die each year from exposure to air pollution.

Key findings of the report include:
•    There has been a recent spike in air pollution ‘exceedances’ in the tar sands region from 47 in 2004 to 1,556 in 2009. ‘Exceedances’ are counted when air monitoring stations in the tar sands region show actual air pollution to be higher than targets set by the Alberta government.
•    Alberta has lower standards than the European Union, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization for what qualifies as an ‘exceedance’.
•    Between 2002 and 2008, tar sands facilities reported a near doubling of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter; a 50 per cent increase in nitrogen oxides; and a 14 fold increase in hydrogen sulphide emissions.

“The federal government needs to stop confronting the tar sands controversy with public relations, and start living up to its own promises,” said McEachern. “With the planned expansion of the tar sands industry, the pollution problem is poised to get much worse without limits to what goes into the air.”

Dirty Oil, Dirty Air: Ottawa’s broken pollution promise can be downloaded at

About Environmental Defence ( Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research solutions. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, clean water and thriving ecosystems nationwide, and to bring a halt to Canada’scontribution to climate change.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext 232