The coal-burning Nanticoke power station is Canada’s largest industrial source of tiny toxic air-pollution particles.

Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, says newly available 2002 numbers “just emphasize how serious the air pollution from Nanticoke is.”

The data reported by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory show 5,514 tonnes of microscopic pollutant particles spewed from the plant’s stacks in 2002.

The problem is PM-10, particles 10 microns or less in diameter, less than one-seventh the diameter of a human hair. They are listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act because they penetrate deep into the lungs and are absorbed into blood and body tissue. They can carry dangerous substances such as dioxins with them.

The Ontario Medical Association blames PM-10 for 1,900 premature deaths every year from lung and heart disease. It says many more people become sick and miss work or school because of the effects.

The clean air alliance, which has long campaigned to shut down Nanticoke and the province’s other coal-fired power generators, applauds the new Liberal government for pledging to do that by 2007.

Until then, however, Gibbons said: “Nanticoke’s plume of pollution extends across Ontario and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, hurting people from Nanticoke itself to New York, New England and New Brunswick.

“The Ontario government’s Nanticoke … plant is an international public health and environmental menace that needs to be phased out as soon as possible.”

A report the alliance will release today points out Nanticoke is also Ontario’s No. 1 industrial source of toxic mercury, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride and nitrogen oxides.

John Earl, spokesman for Ontario Power Generation, the Crown corporation that owns Nanticoke, said last night that without seeing the report, he could offer little more comment than that “OPG meets or betters all regulatory requirements at our stations and continually looks for improvements in our environmental performance and emissions.”

Gibbons acknowledges there are many unmeasured sources of PM-10 but argues Nanticoke, which emits 14 per cent of the PM-10 reported by large industries in Ontario, should be phased out as soon as possible.

He also welcomed Stelco’s plan to build a natural gas-fired plant to produce steam and electricity at its Hilton Works in Hamilton and hopes Dofasco will follow suit. “That would be positive for Hamilton in two ways. It would make Stelco more competitive and help phase out the need for coal burning at Nanticoke.”

Gibbons, who is confident the Dalton McGuinty government will stick with the 2007 coal phase-out deadline, said: “We’ve got to start investing in energy conservation and renewable energy sources as well as natural gas co-generation and district heating systems.
Hamilton Utilities Corp. is one of the leaders in district heating, which should be encouraged.”

The alliance spokesman said the federal government’s failure to connect its new Hamilton office building to the Hamilton Energy Centre across York Boulevard is “absolutely outrageous.” The centre’s powerhouse burns natural gas to operate an electrical generator.