June 7 is Clean Air Day. Part of Canadian Environment Week, this special day aims to drive awareness about air quality.
The negative impacts of air pollution on our health are now well-known. In fact, tens of thousands of Canadians suffer from respiratory problems related to and worsened by air pollution. Thankfully, there are ways to combat the negative effects of air pollution. While many people are aware that driving less helps reduce air pollution, a lot of people overlook the important role that plants — and especially trees — play in keeping the air clean.
Trees produce oxygen, absorb pollutants from the air and trap particulate matter, such as pollen, dirt, ash and dust. Because larger trees have more leaf area than smaller ones, they are typically more effective at removing pollutants from the air. For example, trees with trunk diameters of less than 15 centimetres can each remove up to 0.1 kilograms of pollutants from the atmosphere per year, while trees with trunk diameters greater than 75 centimetres can each remove more than 1.8 kilograms of pollutants per year.
According to a 2014 study by TD Bank Group on the value of urban forests, urban forests play a key role in reducing air pollution. For instance, Toronto’s urban forest filters around 25 per cent of the annual emissions that industries produce in the city. This is equivalent to about 1,900 metric tons of air pollution removed from the atmosphere per year; equivalent to the emissions released from more than one million automobiles or 100,000 single family homes.
Canada’s forests as a whole also play an important role in cleaning our air. A 2017 study by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and TD Bank Group found that forests provide an average benefit of $26,382 per hectare per year in ecological services. These services include carbon storage, water filtration and air purification.
NCC contributes to cleaner air through its protection and restoration of natural areas such as forests. You too can do your part. Besides using your car less often, you can plant trees, avoid cutting down large trees in your yard, and/or help NCC protect Canada’s forests either through donation, volunteering or participating in the organization’s Small Acts of Conservation challenge.
If you’d like to help out on an NCC property, NCC’s Conservation Volunteers program provides several tree planting opportunities. In addition to planting these living air filters, volunteers also work to remove species that may pose a threat to the survival of native tree species. For example, invasive species such as the European gypsy moth and emerald ash borer threaten about 10 per cent of Toronto’s urban tree population. As forests are highly effective at absorbing air pollutants and trapping particulate matter, invasive species removal is crucial to protecting trees.
To learn more about the Nature Conservancy of Canada, including its efforts to keep our air clean through the conservation of natural areas, its Conservation Volunteers program and its Small Acts of Conservation challenge, visit natureconservancy.ca.