Vital Signs 2015


Hamilton’s water consumption and waste diversion continued to improve in 2010. The number of poor air quality days is also improving: there was a total of two over the last two years, compared with an annual average of 16 from 2002 to 2007. Greenhouse gas emissions fell slightly, while progress stalled on the number of days public beaches were open.

Water Consumption

Water consumption continued to decline in 2010, falling to 426 cubic metres from 437 cubic metres per account in 2009.[1] This continues the reduction of over 50% since the early 1990s as reported in Hamilton’s Vital Signs last year. Residences are the heaviest users of water and have mirrored the overall water consumption decline, dropping almost 40% from 2001 to 2006.[2] Universal water metering, rate increases, and greater recognition that water is a valuable commodity all played a part.

Waste Diversion

In 2010, Hamiltonians diverted more waste from landfills. The amount diverted rose to 49% last year, similar to the provincial average and up from 47% in 2009 and from 17% in 2000. The amount of waste composted dropped slightly to 23% from 24% in 2009, while the amount recycled remained at 22% compared to a year earlier. The City of Hamilton’s overall diversion target is 65%.[3]



Poor Air Quality Days

The Ministry of the Environment defines a poor air quality day as one when the Air Quality Index, which measures local pollutants and ground level ozone, remains above 51 for more than one hour. There were two poor air quality days in Hamilton last year, and none in 2009. These low levels represent an improvement from 2002 – 2007 when the city averaged 16 poor air quality days annually.[4] Much of the progress is due to the idling of coal plants in the US and Canada, and the economic slowdown in manufacturing.



Air Pollution Trends

Local air pollutants, including particulate matter, have decreased by almost 40% over the last decade due to improvements in technology and changes in practice by industry. In its 2010 Annual Report, Clean Air Hamilton noted reductions at its downtown measuring site of:

  • over 40% in Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) levels
  • 9% in Inhalable Particulate Matter (PM10)
  • 34% in Respirable Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
  • 41% in Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • 50% in Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • 99% in Total Reduced Sulphur odours
  • 69% in Benzene
  • 55% in PAH (Benzo[a]pyrene)

Ground level ozone, or “smog”, has increased by between 10% and 30% across much of southern Ontario over the last decade, and is primarily due to manufacturing processes in the mid-western United States.[5]

Some neighbourhoods particularly in northeast Hamilton are not regularly captured in the Air Quality Index data. In these neighbourhoods, Hamilton Air Monitoring Network information shows similar long-term declines in most pollutants as noted above, but also a three-year rise in PAH (Benzo[a]pyrene), and Benzene. Both of these pollutants pose health risks and are by-products of the coking process in the steel industry. Benzene is also present in gasoline, and is present in low levels in all areas where gasoline is pumped. Until three years ago, levels of Benzene and Benzo[a]pyrene had fallen steadily since the late 1990s because of technical improvements to the coking process.[6]

Clean Air Hamilton’s 2011 Annual Report is expected to include additional information about air quality and pollution in ten of Hamilton’s neighbourhoods.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions, the release of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, decreased to 11.9 million tonnes in 2008 from 12.7 million tonnes in 2006. The industrial sector reduced its emissions by 11% over the timeframe. These reductions were offset by increases in residential emissions (11%), commercial emissions (14%), and transportation emissions (3%). The largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Hamilton are steel and heavy industry (72%), commercial (11%), transportation (8%), and residential (7%). Clean Air Hamilton has set a municipal target of 11.4 million tonnes by 2012.[7]

Percentage of Days the Hamilton Beaches are Open

The Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan has set a target of 80% for public beaches to be open for swimming. The three Lake Ontario beaches (Beach Boulevard, Van Wagner’s, and Confederation Park) have consistently exceeded this target, averaging between 82% and 91%. Pier 4 showed dramatic improvement when bird exclusion measures were adopted in 2005, rising from 14% days open in 2004 to 88% in 2009. In 2010, this fell to 71% days open. Bayfront Park continued to perform poorly; it was open for swimming only 15% of days in 2010.[8]

Greenspace and Land Use

In 2009, Hamilton had 404 hectares of parkland per 100,000 residents – well below the provincial average of 595 hectares per 100,000 people. The total land area of the city dedicated to parkland was 1.9%, just over half of which was maintained parkland (1.1%), and the balance natural parkland (0.9%). As reported by the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative, Hamilton’s 1.9% was below its provincial comparator cities, whose parkland averaged 5.1% of total land area.[9]

In terms of natural spaces, Hamilton currently has 23,000 hectares of environmentally significant areas (ESAs) that are targeted to be protected through private land stewardships or agreements with conservation areas. From 1993 to 2006, the number of protected hectares increased to 6,826 from 738.[10]

When agricultural land is re-zoned through Official Plan Amendments, it represents a permanent loss in the community’s ability to produce food locally and sustainably. Vision 2020 reports that from 1993 to 2006, 1,130 hectares of agricultural land were re-zoned. The number of hectares being converted has slowed since the Greenbelt Protection legislation was enacted in 2006-7.[11]


“Brownfields” are broadly defined as abandoned, idled or underused industrial or commercial properties in built-up urban areas where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination, building deterioration/obsolescence, and/or inadequate infrastructure.[12]

The City of Hamilton’s official inventory of brownfield properties identifies 91 total properties, covering 377 total acres scattered across Hamilton. Properties under this inventory were defined vary narrowly, and were only included in the list if they were abandoned or vacant.[13] Estimates that include underutilized and contaminated “sites of interest” suggest the total may be as high as 1,386 properties totaling over 7,000 acres.[14]

The City of Hamilton was the first municipality in Canada to adopt a comprehensive program to promote brownfield redevelopment in 2001.[15] The City of Hamilton’s Environmental Remediation and Site Enhancement Community Improvement Plan is a comprehensive set of programs designed to encourage and promote brownfield redevelopment. The City is a leader among Ontario cities in terms of re-developing brownfields: from 2001 to 2007, Hamilton received 19 total applications to the ERASE program compared to a provincial average of 4. Over the same time frame, Hamilton had 13 sites remediated and 12 sites re-developed, compared with provincial averages of 4 and 3.[16]


[1] City of Hamilton, Public Works. Special Request.
[2] Environment Canada. Water use data 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2006.
[3] City of Hamilton, Public Works. 2010 Annual Report – Solid Waste Management Master Plan.
[4] Clean Air Hamilton. Air Quality Progress Report 2010.
[5] Clean Air Hamilton. Air Quality Progress Report 2010.
[6] Hamilton Air Monitoring Network. 2010 Annual Air Quality Report.
[7] Clean Air Hamilton. Air Quality Progress Report 2010.
[8] City of Hamilton, Public Health. Special Request.
[9] Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative 2009. Partnering for Service Excellence.
[10] Hamilton Conservation Authority. Hamilton Harbour: How much habitat is enough. Discussion paper, March 2006.
[11] Vision 2020 Sustainability Indicators 2008.
[12] City of Hamilton 2007. Planning and Economic Development Department, Report to Council.
[13] City of Hamilton, 2008. Planning and Economic Development Department.Focusing Efforts on Employment Lands , February 27, 2008.
[14] Transcription of Planning and Development Department meeting June 23, 2008. See Globe and Mail Update, Marron, K. November 25, 2008. Brown vs Green equals blue landowner. Available here. Also, Hamilton Community News, September 30, 2010, City needs to turn to brownfields from greenfields to survive.
[15] Canada Mortgage and Housing, 2004. Brownfield Redevelopment and Housing, Case Studies.
[16] City of Hamilton, 2008. Planning and Economic Development Department.Focusing Efforts on Employment Lands, February 27, 2008.