Ontario Lung Association: New Research Supports Accelerated Closures Of Coal Plants

TORONTO, June 6, 2012 /CNW/ - The connection between lung health and air quality was strengthened even further today as the Ontario Lung Association used the occasion of Clean Air Day to release results of its latest research. The Lung Association, with other partners, is calling on the provincial government to accelerate closings of Ontario's remaining coal-fired power plants and to place them on standby reserve until they can be permanently shut down.

The study, conducted by RiskAnalytica, focused on three disease areas: asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, and examined the health and economic impact of air quality in two ways: retrospectively, by looking at current health scenarios calculated as if air quality had been left at 1990 levels, and by examining the impact a 25 per cent reduction in current pollution levels would have on Ontarians' lung health today and 30 years from now.

Lung disease is a leading health concern in Ontario that costs more than $4 billion annually. While there are personal choices an individual can make to protect and maintain his or her own lung health, air quality remains a key risk factor for lung disease. Fortunately the government of Ontario has recognized the need to improve the province's air quality and, among several initiatives, has committed to eliminate all coal-fired power generation by December 31, 2014.

Results from the Ontario Lung Association's research indicate air quality measures such as these have had a significant positive impact on both lung health and healthcare spending and must be, at a minimum, replicated moving forward.

Scenario one - a retrospective

If air pollution levels had remained at the 1990 level, which was significantly higher than today's levels, there would be:

  • An additional 120,000 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by the end of this year with an associated incremental cost of $240 million annually;
  • An additional $8.9 million by the end of this year in annual asthma-related costs because of increased emergency room visits and hospitalization;
  • The additional annual indirect costs due to the effects of COPD, asthma and lung cancer would exceed $98 million in 2012

"The Ontario Lung Association research scenario clearly illustrates the relationship our lungs have with the air we breathe and the need to make every effort to continue improving our air quality," says Respirologist Chris Licskai, spokesperson for the Ontario Lung Association.

"There is no doubt that poor air quality impacts on our health and this research modeling should remind Ontarians that we are all invested in the need for cleaner, healthier air.  The personal and societal costs of poor air quality are very high."

Scenario two - lung health forecast

The Ontario Lung Association also examined the impact of a 25 per cent reduction in air pollution from 2012 levels on the future health of Ontarians over the next 30 years. Only this air quality metric changed from the base model, which was presented in the original April 2011 report, Your Lungs, Your Life: Insights and Solutions in to Lung Health in Ontario. In that report, findings showed that 2.4 million Ontarians currently live with a serious lung disease including asthma, COPD and lung cancer with an expected increase of 50 per cent to 3.6 million by 2041 if changes are not immediately made to the present system.

By reducing the air particulate matter levels by an additional 25 per cent relative to the current trend, and holding the current ozone levels steady, findings showed significant health and economic savings relative to the original model:

  • The prevention of over 35,000 new cases of COPD over the next 30 years resulting in an annual savings of $270 million by 2042;
  • A reduction of $32 million in annual asthma-related costs by 2042, and;
  • An annual savings in indirect costs of $570 million attributable to COPD, asthma and lung cancer by 2042

The Ontario Lung Association with more than 40 stakeholders, including the Asthma Society of Canada, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), and the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, has formed the Ontario Lung Health Alliance to call on the government to commit to the creation and implementation of an Ontario Lung Health Action Plan.  Such a plan would address the growing burden of all lung disease in Ontario by making existing resources more widely available, and ensuring all Ontarians have access to the programs, supports and medications they need to prevent and better manage lung disease.

"Our lungs are directly impacted by our external environment every time we take a breath," says George Habib, president and CEO, Ontario Lung Association, "and so the challenge with lung health is it requires policies that cut across several government ministries. With more than enough coal-free power available in Ontario right now, there is no reason to keep open the dirty coal plants any longer that impact our breathing so negatively. Accelerating the closure of coal-fired units makes both health and economic sense."

About RiskAnalytica

This research was conducted by RiskAnalytica on behalf of the Ontario Lung Association. The assumptions and calculations underlying RiskAnalytica's Life at Risk® simulation platform were also prepared by RiskAnalytica as part of this project. RiskAnalytica is a Toronto based research and mathematical analysis company operating since 2001. RiskAnalytica specializes in quantitatively evaluating the value of health interventions using health and wealth outcomes, population based studies of the health and economic consequences of health-related conditions.

About the Ontario Lung Association

The Lung Association is a registered charity that provides information, education and funding for research to improve lung health. The organization focuses on the prevention and control of asthma, chronic lung disease, tobacco control as well as healthy air and the effects of pollution on lung health. For information on lung health, call 1-888-344-LUNG (5864), which is staffed by certified respiratory educators, or visit www.on.lung.ca. You can also follow it on Twitter @OntarioLung and Facebook.

SOURCE Ontario Lung Association

For further information:

Elizabeth Harvey
Provincial manager, Government Relations
Ontario Lung Association
416-864-9911 ext. 279

RiskAnalytica contact:
Paul Smetanin
416-782-7475 ext 401


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