Clearing the fog surrounding smog

Coined by medical doctor Harold Antoine des Voeux in 1905, “smog” originally referred to the dense, black fog associated with the burning of coal. The effects of smog had also been seen well before the Industrial Revolution, in ancient Rome, where wood-burning fires blackened many of the buildings. It is also speculated that the Chinese may have burned coal as fuel starting around 1000 BC.

These days, the visible haze that hangs over cities is mostly caused by exhaust fumes from the combustion of fossil fuels in vehicles and other anthropogenic sources concentrated in urban areas. A mixture of noxious gases known as criteria air contaminants—such as ground-level ozone and sulphur dioxide— and particulate matter, smog can severely affect human health, especially amongst children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing respiratory and heart problems.

To make matters more complicated, the sunlight that normally brings warmth and life to the world also causes primary pollutants (those emitted into the atmosphere) to chemically react, producing secondary pollutants, collectively termed photochemical smog. More specifically, it is the nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted into the atmosphere that react with sunlight to produce ozone and secondary particulate matter. While ozone in the Earth’s stratosphere filters out most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, ozone at the ground level in the troposphere causes severe irritation to the lungs. In other words, people are now advised to stay indoors on warm, sunny days in order to avoid a trip to the nearest hospital.

During days when air at elevated altitudes is higher in temperature than air at lower altitudes, a temperature inversion occurs. Since cold, dense air sinks, there is no vertical mixing between the two layers, resulting in that concentrated haze of pollutants that hangs over a city. This effect is especially pronounced in cities located in low lying areas where horizontal air flow is blocked by land features. While a breeze might be able to lower the concentration of pollutants, it also transports unwanted and highly reactive pollutants to rural areas, affecting agricultural lands, water sources, and ecosystems many kilometres away from the city. As a result, areas located downwind of areas emitting primary pollutants usually have the greatest ozone concentrations

Airborne particles, or aerosols, do not simply hang around waiting for an unsuspecting human being to inhale. They may be suspended in the air for hours or days, and acidic particles, such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, may be deposited on surfaces (termed dry deposition) or washed out of the atmosphere through various forms of precipitation (termed wet deposition). This generates acid rain, which not only destroys human architecture, but also creates havoc for ecosystems. Soil, especially in eastern Canada, does not have sufficient alkalinity to neutralize the acid that is deposited. The now acidic soil, in turn, is less able to retain minerals, causing leaching and affecting organisms that rely on these nutrients. Conversely, the high content of nitrogen present in acid rain actually promotes algal growth in aquatic ecosystems, leading to eutrophication and the depletion of oxygen. This process severely affects many organisms that reside within affected lakes and streams.

Persistent organic pollutants are, as their name suggests, difficult to break down. POPs include certain pesticides (like DDT), industrial chemicals (such as PCBs), and certain chemical by-products. Once POPs enter the food chain, they are able to bioaccumulate in animal and human tissue alike. Because of their persistence, these compounds are carried well away from their sources and many become concentrated in polar regions where the cold dense air sinks, adversely affecting local people and wildlife. POPs have been linked to problems with the reproductive system, neurobehavioral disorders, and cancer.

Surprisingly, some of the substances that are referred to as “air pollutants” today are also organic vapours generated by vegetation, smoke from naturally-occurring fires, and gases from volcanic eruptions. The problem now lies in the level of concentration at which these substances are being produced through industrial activities, and secondary pollutants produced from chemical reactions between them.

About a month ago, the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research officially welcomed the abundant atmospheric pollutants waiting outside its doors. Comprised of U of T faculty members from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, the Department of Chemistry, and the Faculty of Medicine, the centre aims not only to decipher the sources of atmospheric aerosols, but also their chemical and physical properties, the effects on humans and the environment, and possible improvements that can be made to reduce the severity of these effects. With the help of up-to-date technology located in the Walberg, Lash Miller, and Gage buildings on the St. George campus, these researchers are set to clear the air about smog and its effects.

For more information on what you can do about improving air quality, visit:


Celebrity causes: fad or rad?

The September 2007 issue of Glamour would have been an average edition of a fashion periodical if not for one element: a grim article written by Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler about Congolese women who had been brutally raped and tortured. While flipping the pages, the topics suddenly jumped from fall jackets to accounts of human barbarity so horrifying that it made the rest of the magazine seem laughable.

The appearance of such a serious article in a fashion magazine unquestionably reflects the recent drastic increase in celebrity social awareness. Newspapers, weekly tabloids, and entertainment shows are all overflowing with footage of yet another A-lister traveling to Africa, founding their own charity or participating in awareness campaigns. With all this mass-media coverage, many people are naturally inclined to ask: what good does celebrity activism actually do?

As with any situation, there are two main perspectives to this issue. The easiest is the one that tends to be more widespread: famous celebrity activists such as Bono, Angelina Jolie and Oprah are routinely accused of being deceptive attention-seekers and hypocrites, especially in terms of their charities and funding programs. (Product) Red, of which Bono is a co-founder, is increasingly attacked for its allegedly misleading goals and misused funds. Although the criticisms may not exactly be fair, they are contributing towards the phenomenon’s negative image.

In addition, the sheer amount of reporting that has recently appeared on this topic has unsurprisingly rendered it worn out. In Princess Diana’s time, a celebrity posing with HIV/AIDS infected patients was considered heroic. Today, they are seen as unoriginal, even annoying. Furthermore, the “trend” factor of social activism is discouraging potential participants from getting involved because they do not want to feel like followers. For this, celebrities cannot be blamed. Not for the first time in history, mass media has blown the entire affair out of proportion and, unfortunately, made it headline news a few too many times for it to remain original or inspiring.

On a positive note, some of these celebrities have truly achieved remarkable things through activism. Angelina Jolie has personally funded her way to becoming a recognized UN spokesperson and is credited with feats that could have only been realized with a powerful celebrity status. She has convinced presidents to acknowledge civil rights groups, travelled to many parts of the world, written serious pieces on her experiences and, all the while, kept an image of human authenticity that is very hard to compromise. Using money, media, and a desire for change, she and other celebrities have helped raise mass awareness and exposure to humanitarian crises that could have otherwise remained unknown.

The general situation with famous activists is clearly very delicate. One thing is for sure: celebrities and their actions will always be a hot topic. Willingly or not, status, money, and psychology have led our society to view certain members of this small group of people as role models. Consequently, any messages that these stars may wish to send will usually manage to find their way into our lives. This being said, the phenomenon of celebrity activism may not be the most in need of critique after all. Surely messages calling for tolerance, compassion, and generosity of heart cannot be all that bad. All accusations considered, maybe some positive will even come from Paris Hilton’s desire to visit Rwanda: increased awareness, aid, or if all else fails, worldwide comic relief.

Battle for Burma

Hundreds of Torontonians marched to protest atrocities committed by the military junta in Burma (officially called the Union of Myanmar). Marchers demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners held by the junta, including Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the Burmese elected leader, who was never allowed to take office. The march was part of the Oct. 6 Global March for the People of Burma, a global movement for democracy in Burma.

“The outrageous actions of the generals and the support given to them by India and China solicit a struggle for democracy in the region,” said Paul Copeland of the Toronto Burma Roundtable, one of organizers of the demonstration. “Regardless of where you are, this is a concern for the cause of democracy.”

BBC reports that the State Peace and Development Council’s 19-year-old military government has arrested up to 10,000 dissidents over the last month, including thousands of monks in a democratic movement that has been growing amidst escalating military violence against it.

Protesters have brought international attention to what many feel is an illegitimate government. The first ever Burmese elections, held in 1990, saw Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s National Democratic League win 392 out of 489 seats in the national parliament. The election’s results were rejected by SPDC, then called the State Law and Order Council.

The current wave of protests, spearheaded by monks and nuns, began when the government decided to remove fuel subsidies, setting off a series of demonstrations against the resulting jump in food prices and costs of other basic necessities.

Military governments have ruled Burma since 1962, when General Ne Win overthrew an unpopular, collapsing democracy led by the prime minister U Nu. The short-lived democracy had lasted only 14 years, and never flourished, since the British administration was forced out in 1948.

“We are trying to establish a democratic country in Burma,” said rally organizer Minthura Wynn, a former activist during the 1988 movement in Burma which was crushed when the SLORC took over the state. “I took the opportunity to find some support among the concerned Canadian citizens.”

The 88 Generation Students, activists like Minthura who have become associated with the spirit of the 1988 Uprising, have made the Burmese democratic movement global.

Under Ne Win’s so-called socialist regime, which is known for its excessively patriotic and intolerant policies, Burma’s economy continued a downward trend, becoming one of the poorest in South-East Asia and being branded a “Least Developed Country” by the World Bank. When Ne Win resigned in July 1988, student unions had risen to try and establish a democracy in the country. Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung Sun, a slain leader of the movement for freedom against British rule was one of the heroes of this movement. However, it was General Saw Maung, of the SPLOC that brutally took control.

The demonstrations culminated in Uprising 8888, starting on August 8, 1988 (the number 8888 is considered lucky) and ending when it was brutally razed on Sept. 18, when the current junta fired on crowds, killing thousands of protestors.

Minthura has been imprisoned by the SPDC, and even claims to have been warned and followed for a long time. Following the 1988 coup d’etat by Saw Maung the All-Burma Student Democratic Front was formed by union leaders like Minthura.

“I was living in the jungle on and off for six years,” Minthura told The Varsity in an interview. “My responsibility was to deliver human rights and education information in the Mon and Karen states (two of more than 10 major ethnicities in Burma). I was arrested three times, then in 1994 I came to Canada to get legal status, and to continue our movement internationally.”

In Toronto, Minthura and other activists from Burma formed the Burmese Students Democratic Organization.

“Torontonians should be writing to Harper and Maxine Bernier to implement a sanction against Canadian Companies doing business in Burma, and the Burmese government,” says Copeland. “Canadian politicians have said a great deal about the issue, but nothing is yet being done. We should be telling our representatives to get the Canada Pension Plan to divest from companies that work in Burma, for example.”

Minthura and Copeland both point out that many North American companies continue to invest in Burma, which should be sanctioned. “We want Canada to support UN resolutions against the Burmese government and impose sanctions against companies investing there, and against the [Burmese] government,” said Minthura.

“We are trying to prove we haven’t given up yet.” The way Minthura sees it, 88 Generation Students are still very much alive.

All sound and fury—for nothing

They’ve heard it over and over again, and it’s one broken record they’ll be glad to hear the end of as the season draws to a close.

Following Saturday’s loss to the Western Mustangs, an eerie silence surrounded the Varsity Blues. Considering all the fanfare and hype that the game, played in front of 5,350 at TD Waterhouse, has engendered over the last few weeks, one couldn’t help but wonder, “Who died?”

No one, unless you’re counting the dead horse that media types have been beating ad nauseum in recent weeks. By Monday there were no more questions pertaining to the now-historic losing streak of 48 consecutive games, no more excessive coverage and redundant articles. Who would have thought that talking about a broken record would have turned into such a broken record itself?

Now with loss number 48 officially in the history books, the vultures can officially move on to their next story and the team can begin concentrating on football once again.

“Much adversity has been placed on the team from many sources,” said Blues player and Ticats draft pick Michael Goncalves. “The media, injuries, and negative talk have all been issues, but when I read the newspaper or watch the news, any negative media about the team only fuels me to play harder for the guys next to me, because we’re all playing the sport we love.”

Goncalves, one of the most senior players on the team, is a leader on a young Blues squad. Despite his arguments to the contrary, the streak must have weighed on both players and coach this season. With weekly reminders from every self-respecting journalist this side of the Edmonton Sun, how could they forget?

The season’s closer against Queen’s this Saturday is expected to be a quiet, low-key affair—a far cry from previous games. This development is not unlike what happened during Barry Bond’s march towards 758 home runs. Once he passed that magic number, the media vanished faster than a tiger in a Siegfried and Roy act. Like Bond’s record-setting feat, the Blues would also like a caveat placed on the infamous number 48.

“An asterisk should be placed beside the losing streak record because it doesn’t tell the whole story. We have come out each and everyday, giving 110 per cent,” Goncalves said.

“I have made great friends over my five years at U of T, and have grown as a player. There are too many positive things that have happened for this losing streak to defi ne our team.”

While an asterisk is not a likely option, Goncalves and his teammates should take solace. Today’s newspapers will be used to line tomorrow’s litter boxes, to the huge relief of the team as they try to bury this stinker of a season in the past.

Ontario, the morning after

In Trinity-Spadina, the provincial riding that encompasses most of U of T’s downtown campus, Rosario Marchese of the NDP has won a 41 per cent majority. This riding was one of only five that voted in favour of electoral reform.

The riding of Toronto-Centre, which encompasses St. Michael’s and Victoria Colleges, elected George Smitherman (Liberal). UTM’s Mississauga-Erindale riding voted in favour of the status quo. The riding also elected a Liberal MPP, Harinder Takhar, as did UTSC’s Pickering-Scarborough East riding, who voted Wayne Arthurs into provincial. UTSC’s riding, meanwhile, was also the most vehemently opposed to MMP, with 63.5 per cent of voters choosing against reform. Voter turnout across the province worsened since the last 2003 election, dropping from 56.9 per cent to 52.8. In Trinity-Spadina, however, turnout improved very slightly, from 52 per cent to 52.6.

While there is no objective way to determine if youth voter turnout has increased from last year, polling stations ran out of ballots twice at Ryerson University, a sign young adults are taking an increased interest in politics.

McGuinty’s party won a second consecutive Liberal majority government, a feat last achieved 70 years ago by Mitchell Hepburn. John Tory and Frank De Jong, leaders of the Progressive Conservative and Green parties, respectively, lost their own ridings and currently do not hold a seat in provincial parliament. De Jong, leader of the Ontario Greens since 1993, has never won a parliamentary seat, but Tory’s defeat sent ripples through the PC party and the blue leader has announced that if his party asks him to, he will resign.

Analysts have suggested that Tory’s plan to extend public funding of religious schools, a promise he withdrew when it proved unpopular, may have cost the PC party around three percent of the popular vote.

Though the Greens did not win any ridings, they saw a large popular vote increase, to 8.0 per cent from 2.8 per cent in 2003.

The NDP won three more seats, growing their MPP faction from seven to 10 and increasing their share of the popular vote by about two per cent.

The referendum to switch to a Mixed Member Proportional electoral system failed. Had the referendum won 60 per cent of the popular vote and 64 out of 107 ridings, Ontario would have adopted a new provincial voting system that attempts to balance regional concerns with the popular vote. The MMP referendum achieved only 36.9 per cent of votes and won a majority in only five ridings.

Jen Hassum, chairperson of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students, said that younger voters who overwhelmingly supported the reform were outvoted by the older population.

“Recent polling showed that 67 per cent of voters under the age of 35 supported the new voting system,” said Hassum. “Tonight’s projected defeat of Mixed Member Proportional reinforces a massive generational divide in Ontario,” she announced on election night.

Hassum noted that though Ontario’s tuition fees are among Canada’s highest, provincial funding for postsecondary education is the lowest in the country.

Dr. Peter George, chair of the Council of Ontario Universities and president of McMaster University, echoed Hassum’s remarks. He said he felt lack of public information and awareness on the referendum contributed to the overwhelming support for the existing system.

“I think discussions around referenda of that kind often are quite complex and it’s very difficult to get the real proposed improvements of the new system to the public,” George said. “The default position in such situations is always to vote in favor of the status quo,” he added.

CFS-O, COU, and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance have voiced hopes that pressure on the Liberals will force their majority government to take up issues of post-secondary education. OUSA approved of the Liberals’ “great strides” in funding post-secondary education and student aid during their past four-year mandate.

Detailed breakdown of the voter turnout at the different polling stations across campus are expected to be available within a couple of weeks.

Varsity Blues badger Brock

The next challenge to the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team will come this Saturday, when they face off against the four-time defending OUA champion, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

The game will be the teams’ first meeting of the season, as the Blues deal with an unknown quantity.

Blues head coach Karen Hughes isn’t sure what to expect. “[It’s] really hard to know because we haven’t seen them yet, but usually with Laurier, it’ll be about us trying to be a good skating team,” she said. “Good puck control will be key against them.”

The Blues look like they’re up to the task after a solid game against the Brock Badgers on Saturday night. Coach Hughes said the team had some good things to build on, and the final score—4- 1 in the Blues’ favour—certainly confirmed that view, bringing the Blues to a perfect 3-0 this season.

The team came out firing in the first period, but the sharp play of Beth Clause, second-year Badgers goaltender, kept the score close. Despite outshooting the Badgers 17 to 9, the Blues scored only one goal in the initial frame—a low glove-side power-play tally by Emily Milito from defenceman Kelly Setter on a two-on-one—when a hooking penalty to Brock’sMaggie Young gave the Blues their third chance with the man advantage.

Special teams continued to come through for the Blues, who killed off all six penalties against them. They were able to cycle the puck, get shots through from the point and maintain pressure in the offensive zone on most of their power-play opportunities.

The Blues would once again capitalize on a Brock penalty in the second period, on a hooking call against Ann Lavallee late in the frame. The Badgers’ aggressiveness on the penalty kill confined the Blues to their own zone for most of the two minutes but wound up costing them when a turnover inside Toronto’s blueline led to an odd-man rush that eventually ended in a goal by Annie Del Guidice, assisted by Milito and Brenly Jorgensen.

U of T broke the game wide open in the third period with two evenstrength goals at 3:34 and 6:11. After some aggressive forechecking deep in the Badgers’ zone, Blues forward Emily Patry came up with the puck in the corner and found an open Karolina Urban in front of the net. Urban fired the puck past the goaltender to make it 3- 0 and Lindsay Hill picked up the second assist on the goal. Laura Foster capped off the Blues’ scoring when shetapped the puck past a sliding Clause on a feed from Darby Smith and Lyndsey Ryan.

Brock called a time-out shortly after the fourth goal, and whatever head coach Todd Erskine said must have helped, because the Badgers responded with their first goal of the game just over a minute later. Lavallee made a pass to Kelly Walker just inside U of T’s blueline and after a move to get past the Blues defender, Walker walked in alone on the opposing goal and fired the puck high glove side to ruin goaltender Stephanie Lockert’s shutout bid.

The comeback attempt would end there. Though Brock would get a couple of chances late in the game, Lockert shut the door. Del Guidice, who led the Blues in scoring last year, was named player of the game.

Law designs unveiled

Rotman is not U of T’s only professional school with plans for a new building. The Law faculty is planning to build a major structure on its current site facing Queen’s Park to create more space to house faculty and accommodate students. The faculty has no plans to expand its enrolment.

The new structure will add 100,000 square feet of classrooms, lecture halls, and faculty offices at an estimated cost of $60 million. Plans also call for the building to be more accessible for students with disabilities. The law school had shortlisted six designs was and now has narrowed the field to three Canadabased firms.

On Thursday, Oct. 11, the finalists presented detailed models of their designs at Flavelle House, one of the law school’s two current locations. About 70 people attended the event, including prominent faculty members of the law school, the Dean of music, students, alumni, and representatives of the city of Toronto and the ROM.

“One of the things I wanted to do was to invite an educated conversation with our students who are very much a part of this,” said Mayo Moran, dean of Law. All three proposals are designed to enhance the beauty of Philosopher’s Walk, a scenic footpath that runs through the downtown campus.

“Space can make your spirit soar or your spirit suffer,” said Moran at the presentation, adding that students at the law school today are often taught in classrooms that are underground and uninspiring. “We have amazing students and it makes a difference to study and inhabit spaces that are beautiful and inspiring and for my faculty and my students I want them to be in spaces that inspire them to do their best.”

The three project designs can be viewed at Flavelle House on 78 Queen’s Park Crescent West. The final design will be selected in the spring

The fantastic four

On Saturday, the Varsity women’s tennis team won its fourth straight gold medal against Université du Montreal 4-3. The win capped off a season where the Blues went 5-2 and won a thrilling semi-final match against York 4-3 on Friday, after a third doubles match in which Aisha Bhimla and Maia Kirk won 8-7 to boost the Blues into the finals.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Blues coach Nabil Tadros. “I am really happy for the new players, that’s where the real excitement is. This is something they will talk about for the rest of their lives.”

The Blues were led by the strong play of their number one, Natalia Lech, who extended her twoyear unbeaten streak, winning in straight sets in the finals. “I just played my game. I did what I had to do and came through,” she said.

The Blues were able to take the doubles point with two demanding 8-2 wins. This was due to great serving and smart baseline action, forcing errors on Montreal’s part.

“Our doubles have great chemistry,” said Blues player Roxana Soica, “everyone here gets along so well that it creates a no-pressure atmosphere and you can just play without worry.”

The Blues were not as strong in the singles matches, but managed to hold off Montreal for the 4-3 victory. The highlight of the singles matches was Roxana Soica’s straight sets 7-5, 7-5 victory, coming back from 5-2 and 5-3 deficits in the first and second sets, respectively.

“I just had to play, and not think. I adjusted to the way the game was going and played my slice shots. You just can’t give up,” explained Soica.

“This just shows the type of pressure player Roxana is. She has a great competitive edge and being down 5-2 is nothing for her,” said Tadros.

Throughout the afternoon the Blues played tough and made the shots they had to, frustrating a Montreal squad with their precise use of the width and length of the court.

“It isn’t enough for a player to be able to play the court up and down. They must be able to move side to side and that is where our players were able to play their shots to capitalize,” said Tadros. This victory shows the strength and power of the women’s tennis program at U of T. With four straight OUA championships, the women have become strong opponents to OUA teams. They now hold the record for the most number of consecutive gold medal wins in OUA championship history, beating York’s record. Though they lost two matches this year, their ability to win close matches and capitalize in important situations, like against Montreal on Saturday, show how good the team and the tennis program have been.

“Each year we have new players. This year we were fortunate enough to get players like Aisha Bhimla, Maia Kirk, and Roxana Soica. They are all top players and they bring something special to our team,” Tadros said. “School comes first. For the ladies on this team to play so strongly and be into their studies shows just the kind of people they are,” he remarked.

Saturday was far from cloudy for women’s tennis—it was golden.