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Nurturing 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 sky’s 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.

It’s 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. It’s simple. It’s 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 Trent’s 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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Last updated September 16, 2002