Environment Canada removes reference to Diwali from Greater Toronto Air Quality Statement

Environment Canada released, then deleted, what a meteorologist said was its first air quality statement about holiday fireworks on Monday, raising questions about why a big holiday Hindu was designated.

A joint statement released by the federal agency and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment warned that “high levels of air pollution” were expected in parts of Toronto and surrounding areas Monday night due to the fires fireworks planned for Diwali combined with light winds and stagnant weather conditions.

On Monday afternoon, the weather agency updated its statement without mentioning Diwali, but maintained concerns about air quality.

Environment Canada did not immediately respond to questions about why it removed the reference.

Temperatures Monday night are expected to be colder at ground level than the air above, creating conditions for smoke from small fireworks to be trapped near the ground, an Environment Canada meteorologist said in an interview prior to the release of the updated statement.

“Given the fact that many of them [fireworks] will be released near ground level, given atmospheric conditions, that smoke from fireworks is unlikely to be mixed higher up into the atmosphere,” said Geoff Coulson.

“It could stay level with the ground for a longer distance.”

Brampton residents set off fireworks to mark the start of Diwali on November 4, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Special Weather Air Quality Statement predicted moderate risks in the Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton and York and Durham areas from Monday evening through early Tuesday morning, with potential high near-term air quality risks. the air.

Last year, under similar weather conditions, the agency recorded elevated air quality hazards in the same areas during Diwali celebrations, Coulson said. When those same weather conditions started to materialize again, he said the agency decided to release the special weather statement on Monday morning.

“Last year, nothing was done because it was only after the fact that those metrics became available, and they may actually see those values ​​go up,” he said. “Whereas this year they are a bit more proactive.”

People surveyed differ from Diwali

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a major festival celebrated by Hindus, as well as some Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists.

Several people online have questioned the decision to release a statement highlighting Diwali fireworks, when fireworks are also common during Canada Day and Victoria Day celebrations.

Coulson said Monday’s weather conditions are less likely in late spring and summer, during other holidays. He said Diwali celebrations were also generally marked by more local celebrations with fireworks at low altitudes compared to Canada Day fireworks shows at higher altitudes.

“What we find in other celebrations, like Canada Day, for example, there aren’t necessarily as many fireworks going off locally,” Coulson said. “There were definitely some big fireworks and in those, the fireworks are launched high into the atmosphere before exploding.”

The special air quality statement itself, however, did not offer these explanations, which were only clarified during an interview with Environment Canada. The updated statement says the weather is expected to increase fine particulate and nitrogen dioxide levels, but didn’t provide any other reasons.

The statement says people sensitive to smoke, such as the elderly or people with asthma, should take extra precautions to reduce their exposure.

Mississauga and Brampton allow some fireworks on private property without a permit on Diwali, but Toronto requires one. In Brampton, these fireworks can only travel up to three meters, or about the height of a basketball net. Mississauga regulations state that only low-risk recreational fireworks are permitted without a permit.