Ambitions Good Enough to Eat -
On A Roof with a View
When it comes to improving our environment and raising awareness of air
quality concerns, the skys the limit for Tom Hutchinson. Trent professor,
researcher and rare breeds activist, Tom is so committed to environmental
research that he has brought some of his ideals home to roost, so to speak.
On top of the roof of the Environmental and Resource Sciences is a greenspace
that has been transformed into a beautiful garden. Tom has orchestrated
this project with a two-fold purpose: to monitor ozone levels and conduct
environmental research and to raise produce which is donated to the local
YWCA and Peterborough Food Bank.
Its an ambitious big-picture project that Tom is very excited about.
He feels so encouraged by the rooftop garden work being done at Trent
that he is hoping other colleges and universities across the nation will
follow his lead.
"There have been virtually no studies done (about ozone damage) in
Ontario for ten years. We are one of the few groups working on it because
of a lack of government funding," explains Tom. "This is a good
model. Its simple. Its dual-purpose and it can be done at
colleges and universities across Canada."
Tom has been monitoring ozone levels in Ontario for years, and has established
an urban/rural corridor study where gardens from Toronto to Eganville
(near Renfrew) and west to Bobcaygeon exist as research sites. All of
these gardens are observed for visual signs of ozone damage, which include
specific patterns of foliage bleaching, stippling and mottling. Cell death
results where ozone damage occurs, which affects the overall health of
the whole plant and its produce yield. Some plants are particularly susceptible
to damage beans, for instance and are important to study.
"Ozone is formed in our atmosphere when certain pollutants
vehicle emissions are particularly bad come into contact with rays
from the sun. A phyto-chemical reaction occurs and produces ozone. This
production peaks in the afternoon and wind direction can have a enormous
effect on where the ozone ends up. Ozone is highly reactive and zaps directly
into membranes and organic material, and we have found that Peterborough
experiences remarkably bad levels," says Tom. Summer wind patterns
consistently push ozone generated in Toronto rush hour periods over Peterborough
and the Kawarthas.
"This year we had an early (ozone) episode on April 15. The episodes
are expanding to spring and fall and last year toxic levels were maintained
in the area for several days on end," Tom adds.
Not only is this type of air pollution activity detrimental to crops and
the bottom lines of area farmers, but to human health as well. As a result,
Tom is working with Peterborough County/City Medical Officer of Health
Gary Humphries to examine 2001 admissions data from Civic Hospital, to
see how it links up to peak ozone periods. "The province estimates
there are 1,800 deaths each year in Ontario specifically related to air
pollution. The particles are so small and they get sucked right into your
lungs," Tom explains.
Between 30 and 40 different crops are planted in Trents rooftop
oasis and, while it may not be able to change the entire air pollution
problem overnight, this project may be instrumental in opening up potential
solutions. For instance, open-top chambers will be installed in the garden
to provide firm data about the beneficial effects of plants as filters
for air pollution. These chambers will be equipped with carbon filters
and U.S. studies have shown up to a 30 per cent decrease in toxins with
similar devices. Some areas of the garden will be filtered and others
will not, helping Tom to monitor the effects on vegetation. Similar monitoring
may occur in his other gardens, including one at the Trent-owned James
Oliver Research site near Bobcaygeon.
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