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Pollution costs Canada tens of billions each year

In 2015, urban smog alone cost the Canadian economy $36 billion

Pollution is expensive business. It apparently costs the Canadian economy tens of billions of dollars every year, according to a new report released Thursday by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The not-for-profit organization set out to measure the impact of pollution on Canadian families, businesses and the government, in order to comprehensively tally the economic toll pollution takes on Canadians.


The results were pretty staggering. In 2015 for instance, the report estimated that urban smog potentially cost Canada $36 billion — most of this cost comes from the amount that our healthcare system spends on Canadians who get sick as an indirect result of inhaling pollutants.

Smog, according to the report, is the costliest pollutant in Canada. It is made up of several different pollutants, one of which is a particle one-thirtieth the size of a strand of human hair. “Because of their small size, these particles are capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory tract. There they can cause a number of health effects, including cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. In extreme cases, smog exposure can lead to premature death.”

The authors of the report make it clear that estimating the true cost of pollution is a little tricky, because data needed to measure the costs of certain pollutants “simply doesn’t exist”.

In 2015, the overall cost of all kinds of pollution to the Canadian economy came to a whopping $39 billion — that breaks down to $4,300 for an average family of four, and is actually a conservative estimate.

But how and why is an average Canadian family spending $4,300 year on mitigating the impact of pollution? It basically boils down to health. When people get sick from pollution, they need to seek treatment. This could, depending on the kind of treatment and medication, be an out-of-pocket expense for many families, not to mention the loss in income from having to take time off work.


Business and governments face costs too, says the report. “Farmers lose money when their crops are damaged by air pollution. Extra money is needed to treat polluted water before it can be used to brew beer. Pollution dirties buildings and erodes infrastructure, adding to their maintenance costs.”

There surprisingly aren’t any comprehensive studies on these specific costs, but a rough estimate brings their tally to $3.3 billion in 2015 alone.

Finally, the report makes a very interesting point on how pollution erodes property value. Cottage properties, it turns out, decline in value when they sit on lakes thick with algae (apparently the algae blooms in Lake Erie have cost Canadians $4 billion). High-rise condominiums are less attractive to buyers if they have views clouded by smog. And farmland, says the report, falls in value when crops are harder to grow because of air pollution.

“We simply don’t know how much exactly pollution costs us in terms of lost wealth, but we do know that there are trillions of dollars of assets at risk from pollution.”

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