Air and Noise Emissions and Land Use Compatibility Assessments for Re-zoning

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In Ontario, land use planning is under the responsibility of municipal planning departments. They designate which lands can be used for which purposes. They are also allowed to entertain applications to change land use when, for example, a developer wants to build residences on land that was not planned (or designated) for it. The Planning Act, and its regulations, governs how municipalities plan land use and change those plans. Amendments are made, under the Planning Act, and can include zoning by-laws and amendments and variances, zoning orders, development permits, site plans, plans of subdivision and condominium and consents.

Air and Noise Emissions

When changes in planning allowances are applied for planners must ensure that adjacent land uses remain “compatible” with surrounding, existing, land uses and existing designations. There are various aspects to “compatibility” which can includes things as widely varying as traffic impacts to architectural style. One important aspect of compatibility is environmental compatibility. This requirement is stated in section 1.2.6.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS):

“Major facilities and sensitive land uses shall be planned and developed to avoid, or if avoidance is not possible, minimize and mitigate any potential adverse effects from odour, noise and other contaminants, minimize risk to public health and safety, and to ensure the long-term operational and economic viability of major facilities in accordance with provincial guidelines, standards and procedures.”

Of note is that the very broad definition of “adverse effect” is the same as in the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). Consequently, air emissions should account not only for nuisance emissions (dust, odour) but also all human health-related contaminants (e.g., traffic-related air pollutants, criteria air contaminants, etc.). It should also be noted that the definitions of sensitive land uses and facilities, in the PPS, are very broad.

Guidance to test for land use compatibility is provided in the D-Series set of guides, which were issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment in 1995, before responsibilities for LUCAs were downloaded to the municipalities. Of note is that the (now) Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) is in the process of updating the guides as they are now considered outdated and do not include the latest science on air quality.

In order to determine if an adverse effect could occur from an air contaminant it is necessary to determine the resultant air quality (AQ) level, at locations of interest, and ensure those levels do not cause an adverse effect. Therefore, AQ assessments should be cumulative (include baseline AQ and incremental contributions from the subject emission source) and quantitative, to provide verifiable numerical results for decision-making.

Land use compatibility assessments (LUCAs) are two-way in nature (D-series document D-1, s.2.1); that is, the assessment should determine whether a proposed facility impacts as-of-right sensitive land uses, and, a proposed sensitive land use should be assessed for impacts from as-of-right facilities and not impede already established as-of-right facility land uses. Therefore, there should be consideration of all as-of-right uses, not just current uses in the study area around a proposed land use change.

D-Series Documents

The D-series documents are a collection of 21 separate documents. The introductory, D-1, document indicates that the purpose of the documents is to provide guidance to assess environmental discharges such as noise, vibration, odours and air emissions, such as dust or gaseous contaminants (Section 2.4 of Guideline D-1). This, therefore, mirrors the PPS (1.2.6.1) and emphasizes that not just nuisance effects are to be assessed, but any adverse effects caused by air emissions. There are four documents in the D-1 “sub-series” (D-1 to D-1-3). The balance of the D-series documents provides assessment guidance (mainly screening tools) for different types of facilities.

The initial stages of the assessment are described in Procedure D-1-1 and requires only quite general project information to be supplied; e.g., nature of the sensitive land use, listing of all existing and committed facilities within the study area, duration, timing and types of operational activities, shipping, receiving and other transport activities, etc. In particular, Section 1.3.1 (a) of Procedure D-1-1 indicates the information that a proponent should provide when a sensitive land use is proposed.

Dependent upon the types of facilities present in the study area, D-Series may provide specific screening guidelines for certain facilities identified. The list of facility-specific guidelines available is provided in Procedure D-1-2, which is essentially a “Table of Contents”. These facility-specific screening guidelines form the balance of the documents, D-2 to D-6, and provide the next step of the assessment (where guidelines are provided). For some facility types (e.g., transport corridors) there are no guides provided for air emission assessments, but assessment is still required. If there are no specific screening guidelines provided, other screening methods will be required outside of those specified in the D-Series documents, or, full assessment is required.

As an example, I provide an introduction to the D-6 Industrial facility screening guide next; however, this is not to construe that only air emissions from industrial facilities are to be included in the assessment for the introduction of a new, sensitive land use.

D-6 Screening Methods for Industrial Facilities

The D-6 guide provides an initial screening tool, based on potential influence distances, to screen-out industrial facilities that are assumed to have negligible impact beyond certain distances. It is meant strictly for industrial facilities and does not apply to other facility types. If industrial facilities do not screen-out then a more detailed, site-specific, assessment is required.

Different separation or influence distances apply to industry screening according to the “class” an industrial facility is classified under. For each class of industrial facility, a “minimum separation distance” and a “potential area of influence” are defined where, outside of the latter area, the facility is assumed to have negligible environmental influence, as shown in the following table. The minimum separation distance indicates the recommended distance within which no incompatible development other than that identified in Section 4.10, “Redevelopment, Infilling and Mixed Use Areas” should occur even if additional mitigation for adverse effects, as discussed in Section 4.2 of Procedure D-1-1, “Types of Buffers”, is provided (Section 4.3 of Guideline D-6).

Industry Classification

Industries are classified based on a few features that correlate to the degree and “noxiousness” of environmental emissions. For example, warehousing may fall under Class I, whereas cement manufacturing may fall under Class III. Therefore, if a Class III facility is located greater than 1000 m from a sensitive land use it is screened-out and (sometimes) no further assessment is required of that facility.

However, it is important to understand that there are problems with this screening method:

1. Categorization is subjective and sometimes not straightforward to apply to individual industrial facilities
2. Categorization is based on nuisance issues only and ignores non-sensed contaminants (e.g. odourless toxic gases) and may therefore incorrectly screen-out facilities that emit non-sensed but potentially harmful contaminants (e.g., PM2.5, metals, etc.)
3. Basis of setback distances is unknown and so uncertain in its applicability

For example, some really noxious industries can have a significant impact even outside of 1 km separation distance whereas some very environmentally docile facilities may have no impact even if they are immediately adjacent a sensitive land use. Therefore, the influence distances themselves should only be treated as approximations and not bright-lines and so strict interpretation should not cloud case-by-case judgment on where potential environmental influence can occur.

Guideline D-6, in Section 4.5.1, states that “no sensitive land uses shall be permitted within the actual or potential influence areas of Class I, II or III industrial land uses, without evidence to substantiate the absence of a problem.” Therefore, when a facility is located within the separation distance allowable for its class type (i.e., does not screen out) further work is required to determine if the facility poses an adverse risk to the proposed sensitive land use. In other words, where facilities do not screen-out and potential environmental influence may occur, by air emissions, a full (site-specific) AQ assessment should be conducted providing numeric results that can be compared to assess for risk of adverse effect.

Introduction to Full Air Assessments

In the case of a proposed facility, the full (site-specific) AQ assessment may take the form of a modelled (estimated) quantification of AQ (for all contaminants) at location in the surrounding community.

For modelled assessments of a proposed sensitive land use, the “adverse effects” test is suitably met by the type of air assessment normally conducted for EAs (thus accounting for baseline AQ). For modelled assessments the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) air quality assessment guide is the reference that can be used for guidance.

DiGiSci Environmental Consulting provides industry-leading expertise in land use compatibility assessments for air quality and noise impacts. If you have any questions about this article, or land use compatibility assessments in general, please do not hesitate to contact us.