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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Particulate Matter (PM)?

 “Particulate matter (PM) is a general term used to describe a heterogeneous mixture of liquid and solid particles smaller than 45 μm (micrometres)"                            -Clean Air Hamilton (2010)

 But what does this mean? PM is a general term that describes a mixture of solid and liquid airborne particles too small to be visible to the naked eye. PM contains all kinds of organic and non-organic compounds, some of which are harmless. However, PM smaller than 10 microns in size are small enough to penetrate the alveoli in the lungs (see fig 1.1 below) and even enter the bloodstream. While larger PM is filtered by the nose and throat, PM10 and PM2.5 are too small for the body's natural filtration systems to protect. PM is classed into 2 categories: PM10 and PM2.5.

PM10  is classified as inhalable PM, as it is not always filtered by the nose and throat, and can lodge in the lungs. PM2.5 is classified as respirable PM, which means that it is not always filtered by the lungs, as it can be breathed through the lungs and even into the bloodstream. Recent research findings have indicated that PM10 is closely associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma and respiratory illnesses (Clark et al, 2010), while PM2.5 is associated with cardiovascular disease and lowered birth weights in newborns (Laumbach & Wood, 2010).


How does particulate matter become airborne?

 In a 2010 report (link), Clean Air Hamilton identified "Fugitive Dusts" as a significant course of airborne PM. Fugitive Dusts don't arise from point-sources, like smoke stacks, but rather from sources like dusty roads, agricultural dusts, dusts from materials handling, construction operations, handling of outdoor storage piles, machinery disturbing  unpaved roads and parking lots, etc.

 "Only recently has it been realized that re-suspended road dusts are a very significant source of  PM10...[and]...PM2.5, and can impact human health. Historically, road dusts and fugitive dusts from industrial operations have been regarded simply as “nuisance” dusts and have been considered mainly as an aesthetic problem rather than an “air contaminant,” “emission” or a concern for human health."                                          - Clean Air Hamilton (2010

 “Mobile monitoring studies conducted for Clean Air Hamilton and the City have shown that the worst dust clouds on industrial roads coincided directly with extraordinarily high levels of particulate material on the roads. Along some roads in the industrial area of Hamilton, re-suspended road dust resulted in very high concentrations of PM10 (up to 2000 μg/m3), PM2.5 (up to 300 μg/m3) and PM1 (up to 125 μg/m3)" (CAH 2010).  The Ministry of the Environment, in Ontario Regulation 419, set a local Air quality standard of 50 μg/m3.

While there are many individual sources for PM, the chief places of exposure are certain types of industrial sites and roads. In fact, roads function as "line sources," increasing exposure and impact on those in the immediate vicinity. " Data from the mobile monitoring survey clearly shows that road dusts have the potential for serious health impacts at the levels measured in Hamilton’s industrial areas" (CAH 2010).

What is drag-out?

"Drag-Out" refers to the dust that gathers on the treads of vehicles that travel from dusty areas through community streets. This dust is often deposited right in the middle of community streets, where other vehicles, wind and air currents aerosolize this dust, making it into airborne Particulate Matter. This dust is most often seen on dry, "smoggy" days where it contributes to the "haze" often seen over urban areas. While vehicle emissions also contribute to airborne Particulate Matter, Drag-Out creates very concentrated PM levels in local areas, and is very preventable.


How can drag-out be prevented? What are some of the solutions?

  • storing dust-emissions materials within bunkers or silos
  • covering exposed dust-emissions materials
  • water-spray systems, used on outdoor materials piles and the treads of vehicles
  • wheel-wash systems at site exits
  • paving dusty surfaces with concrete or bitumen
  • immediately clearing spilt material
  • odour dispersion systems for grain, fertilizer, or mushroom compost storage areas
  • sufficient separation between materials handling facilities and sensitive receptors


Is there a by-law in place that addresses dust and drag-out? 

 Yes, Municipal By-Law No. 77-105 addresses dust and drag-out. The City of Hamilton Streets By-Law No. 9329, Section 9(4)(a) and (aa) strictly forbid the "fouling of highways" by:

"(aa) the placing or depositing of mud, soil or building material by spilling from or tracking by one or more vehicles making egress from or ingress to adjacent land. By-law No. 77-105, S.1;"

 This allows the City of Hamilton to bill violators of this by-law for the costs associated with the cleaning of municipal roads. If drag-out from a local industry is fouling your community's streets, you have a number of options at your disposal to insure their compliance.


What Can I Do?

There are several ways to get involved and help to address industrial dust and drag-out within the city. However, the main and most important thing you can do is start reporting sightings of industrial dust and drag-out to the appropriate channels. This will ensure that polluters are held accountable and pollution patterns don't go unnoticed. 

  1. Click here to go to our "Get Involved" page. 
  2. Click here to download our resource on proper reporting. 

You can also contact us at any time at 905-549-0900, or email at ********.

* Please note that pictures are very helpful in reporting pollution. So if you can, get your cameras out and include your photos!