Environment Canada has removed references to Diwali in the GTA Air Quality Statement

Environment Canada issued, then removed, what a meteorologist said was believed to be its first air quality statement on holiday fireworks on Monday, prompting questions about why a major Hindu holiday was mentioned.

A joint statement released by the federal agency and Ontario’s environment ministry warned of “high levels of air pollution” due to fireworks expected across Toronto and surrounding areas Monday night combined with light winds and stagnant weather for Diwali.

By Monday afternoon, the meteorological agency updated its statement without mentioning Diwali, but maintained its concern over air quality.

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

Temperatures Monday night were expected to be cooler at ground level than in the air above, creating conditions for smoke from small fireworks to be trapped near the ground, an Environment Canada meteorologist explained in an interview before the updated statement was released.

“Many of the fireworks will be released near the ground level, given the atmospheric conditions, the smoke from the fireworks probably won’t mix higher in the atmosphere,” said Geoff Coulson.

“It can stay at ground level for long distances.”

The special weather air quality statement forecasts moderate risk for Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton, and York and Durham regions from Monday evening through Tuesday morning, with some possible short-term high risk to air quality.

During similar weather last year, the agency recorded high air quality risks in the same area during Diwali celebrations, Coulson said. When those same weather conditions started to materialize again, he said the agency decided to issue a special weather statement on Monday morning.

“Nothing was done last year because it was only after those measurements became available, and they actually saw those values,” he said. “This year, though, they’re being a little more active.”

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

A number of people online questioned the decision to issue a statement singling out Diwali fireworks, even during Canada Day and Victoria Day celebrations.

Coulson said the atmospheric conditions forecast for Monday are likely to be lower during other holidays in late spring and summer. Diwali celebrations are typically characterized by more local celebrations with fewer flying fireworks than the high-altitude Canada Day fireworks display, he said.

“We don’t get as many local fireworks as we do at other celebrations like Canada Day, for example,” Coulson said. “Of course there were large firework displays and those fireworks were launched high into the atmosphere before exploding.”

The specific air quality statement itself, however, did not provide those explanations, which were only clarified in an interview with Environment Canada. The updated statement said fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide levels were expected to increase due to weather conditions, but gave no further reasons.

Individuals sensitive to secondhand smoke, such as the elderly or those with asthma, should take extra precautions to reduce exposure, the statement said.

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

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 24, 2022.


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