Research Highlights the Need for Industrial Air Pollution Standards and Thresholds

Gianina Giacosa Massa, Master’s Student, Dalhousie University, 2021 CSA Group Graduate Scholarship Recipient

In 2019, CSA Group launched its Graduate Scholarship Program to support students enrolled in a Master’s program whose research is related to standards. We want to introduce the recipients of the 2021 scholarship and tell you how their research can contribute to the advancement of standards.

Profile picture of Gianina Giacosa Massa, recipient of 2021 CSA Group Graduate Scholarship.The pulp and paper industry is among the major emitters of pollution, impacting the quality of water and air and affecting the health of people living in the vicinity of these facilities. While all organizations releasing pollutants above the set threshold must report their annual emissions to the federal National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), there are no upper limits set, and compliance with recommended limits is not enforced.

Knowing that despite industry assurances, the local population in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, has long been worried about the unpleasant odours and possible health consequences, Gianina Giacosa Massa wanted to learn more about how industries measure and report their air emissions. A Master’s Student in the Environmental Studies Program at Dalhousie University, Gianina focused on nine pulp and paper mills in Atlantic Canada and seven different pollutants they release, including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and PM2.5, fine particles that can travel deep into the respiratory tract and cause many short- and long-term health effects.

Gianina approached the publically available NPRI data from a new perspective. She started looking more comprehensively at a specific industry – pulp and paper processing – across the whole region, analyzing seventeen years of data. Despite many facilities reporting different parameters, this long-term data assessment quickly started to paint a pattern of harmful emissions. In some instances, the pollutants exceeded the reporting threshold by a staggering 100,000%, with no consequences for the polluters.

Working with CSA Group made me realize that if it is possible to have standards and guidelines on other emissions, why not have them for air quality? I hope we can do more research and explore opportunities in this area in the future.

– Gianina Giacosa Massa, Master’s Student, Dalhousie University

In the second part of her research, Gianina looked at events with high concentrations of PM2.5 in Pictou County. With the help of weather data from the Environment Nova Scotiadatabase, she tracked the pollution to the source and checked if the emissions from the source were reported.

Gianina’s work suggests that although the use of NPRI has increased in the last decade, the inventory has many limitations. Reporting NPRI data alone, as Gianina notes in the peer-reviewed article Characterization of Annual Air Emissions Reported by Pulp and Paper Mills in Atlantic Canada, published in Pollutants Journal, is not enough to assure a decrease in pollutant emissions. The lack of standardization in reporting emissions and different permissions granted to industrial facilities in different jurisdictions complicate the issue further.

Gianina and her supervisor, Associate Professor Tony Walker, Ph.D., point out that the lack of industry standards addressing atmospheric pollution is not unique to Canada. They look to greenhouse gas-related standards as a possible model for developing guidelines that could help improve air quality and force industrial facilities to implement measures and technologies that could reduce the amount of pollution.

The collaboration between researchers and CSA Group is really a two-way process. It demonstrates to student researchers that there is more to standards than meets the eye. At the same time, it also helps CSA Group to learn about research that could impact future standards development. It is a great two-way learning opportunity for both students and CSA Group alike.

– Dr. Tony Walker, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University

That is also where Gianina and Dr. Walker see a great benefit of the CSA Graduate Scholarship Program. Throughout her work, Gianina explored standards and other regulatory instruments and learned a lot about how they are created. She now better understands the role research plays in standards development. On the flip side, she and Dr. Walker appreciate the support from CSA Group and the interest it pays to this area that could benefit from standardization.

Learn more about CSA Group’s Graduate Scholarship Program.


June 3, 2022