'We regret the impact': Environment Canada explains Diwali alert after backlash over 'deteriorating air quality' from fireworks
Environment Canada is getting slammed after it issued, then removed, air quality alerts in anticipation of Diwali fireworks. It was believed to be the first air quality statement in relation to holiday fireworks on Monday, prompting questions from many residents about why a major Hindu festival was singled out.
A joint statement released by the federal agency and Ontario's Ministry of the Environment warned "high levels of air pollution" were anticipated across parts of Toronto and surrounding areas Monday night due to expected fireworks for Diwali combining with light winds and stagnating weather conditions.
By Monday afternoon, the weather agency updated its statement without mention of Diwali, but maintained its concerns about air quality.
Diwali, also known as The Festival of Lights, is a major holiday celebrated by Hindus, as well as some Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists.
Isha Kapur, a data analyst working in downtown Toronto, said the alert felt "racist".
"First the provincial elections and then the alert? It's a double whammy. It feels like we're being painted under a bad light for doing something that occurs year-round either way on other national holidays," she says.
"It's already hard for so many celebrating Diwali away from home, I just don't think it's fair for them to feel bad about this too."
Many called out Environment Canada for its hypocrisy, asking why these alerts weren't issued for other national holidays—like Canada Day or Victoria Day—that involve a lot of fireworks.
Just did a quick google search to see if Environment Canada has ever issued an alert like this on Victoria Day or Canada Day. Nothing came up. This is the kind of messaging that directly leads to racism and violence toward South Asian people. https://t.co/1hCpyIyQA8
— Yasmine Simone (@_yasminesimone) October 24, 2022
I’ve never seen this for any other national holiday involving fireworks (and there are many). Care to explain Environment Canada? https://t.co/O6P9rv01Ze
— Amy Gajaria (@AmyGajaria) October 24, 2022
This is racist as all get out from Environment Canada.
The weather equivalent of "Please don't reheat your curry in the lunchroom microwave." https://t.co/hTrNoVeIYq
— Daryl Angier (@DJAngier) October 24, 2022
I don’t recall Environment Canada ever issuing a warning about fireworks regarding air quality concerns on Canada Day, New Years or Halloween. https://t.co/x7CSZHU9Ti
— Ahmar Khan (@AhmarSKhan) October 24, 2022
Assume this means Environment Canada will also issue air quality alerts for Canada Day, Victoria Day, the CNE air show, etc. going forward https://t.co/iozYXmP4YO
— Rahul Kalvapalle (@Kalvapalle) October 24, 2022
So this is what happens with a lack of diversity because someone thought a blanket statement of 'Diwali' would be fine. https://t.co/Wu0HmXGH2M
— Renee Sylvestre-Williams (@reneeswilliams) October 24, 2022
However, Environment Canada issued a statement clarifying the reason for the air quality alert. The agency said that fireworks can have a greater impact depending on weather conditions in the fall and winter when compared to fireworks in the summer, like Canada Day.
"While fireworks take place year-round, including for Canada Day, the impact of particle emissions from fireworks can be greater during weather conditions in the fall and the winter when temperatures inversions can trap harmful particles caused by pollutants, including fireworks and wood burning stoves, in the air for longer periods of time," the agency clarified.
They also stated that the alert was not meant to reflect negatively on those celebrating Diwali, but to protect those sensitive to pollutants and particles in the air.
"We regret the impact it has had on these communities. ECCC acknowledges that the alert should have been more culturally sensitive, and should not have referred to the specific event."
A lot of people Tuesday morning pointed out heavy levels of smog and fog in Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton, as an after-effect of Diwali firecrackers on Monday night.
Looks like #EnvironmentCanada was correct in issuing the warning for GTA Area. Picture taken just now by 8:30 AM in #Brampton I request #Brampton and #Mississauga residents to be cautious towards #Environnement pic.twitter.com/ovxU9c634p
— KULWANT CHALOTRA (@kulwantchalotra) October 25, 2022
Look at all that #DiwaliSmoke settling in. #Toronto #EnvironmentCanada 🤦🤦 pic.twitter.com/3DDYi2EfIi
— Usman Arif (@firanamsu) October 25, 2022
Looks like #environmentcanada was right about issuing a air quality alert. Very smokey everywhere here in Brampton. pic.twitter.com/Kj8JDja57L
— Luke (@lukeincanada) October 25, 2022