Opinion: Haze, eh? Smoky import not our favorite from Canada, but it’s not a bad short-term trade-off

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Erlanger Medical Center, as seen from Missionary Ridge, is cloaked in smoke and in the background Elder Mountain is almost invisible. The Chattanooga area suffered another day of poor air quality caused by the massive Canadian wildfires on July 18, 2023. According to Local 3 News Weather the condition put the area into the Code Red “Unhealthy” Air Quality category. Local 3 News also reported that some relief is expected by Wednesday.

This editorial has been updated to remove a reference to Tennessee's largest bank, First Horizon, which was not acquired by Toronto's Dominion Bank.


If forecasts are correct, by the time most readers read this the smoke from wildfires in Canada will have dissipated from our area and the air quality in Chattanooga will have improved.

We're crossing our fingers.

As imports from our neighbor to the north go, it's not a favorite. Chattanooga's mountain bowl made it the perfect trap for the particulate matter in the air from the smoke Monday, and the Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow website put the city's air quality index in the unhealthy range.

A peek into Chattanooga coming over the Ridge Cut on I-24 Tuesday gave one a nostalgic feeling — and not a pleasant one — of the days when the mountains beyond the city could not be seen from Missionary Ridge because of the pollutants from the Not So Scenic City's numerous manufacturing plants.

On Monday, most of Tennessee had that hazy look. Indeed, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map, the smokiness reached all the way down to the beaches on the panhandle of Florida.

The Volunteer State, of course, did not intentionally import the smoke this week or when Tennessee Valley residents last saw it early last month. But both the city and the state are only too happy to get a few other things from Canada.

For 2022, Canada was Chattanooga's second biggest import origin, with the city bringing in $19.7 million worth of goods. In April 2023, the most recent month for which information is available, Canada was behind only Mexico and Japan in the highest value for imports to our city. In that month, we took in $1.31 million in goods from our neighbor to the north. For 2021, Canada was Tennessee's fourth biggest origin for imports, with the state receiving $6.9 billion in products.

The products with by far the highest monetary value coming to Tennessee from Canada in 2021 — nearly three times more than aluminum and aluminum products — were pharmaceuticals. According to Canada's Tennessee trade fact sheet, the state imported $2.2 billion in pharmaceutical products, $488 million in aluminum and aluminum articles, $382 million in plastics and plastic articles, $355 in softwood lumber and $321 million in optical, medical and precision instruments.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump greenlighted U.S. states to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and President Joe Biden continued the policy.

Under current rules, only drugs currently marketed in the U.S. are eligible for importation. But certain types of drugs are excluded from importation, including controlled substances, biological products (including insulin), infused drugs, intravenously injected drugs, and inhaled drugs during surgery.

However, the Volunteer State not only receives various products from Canada but also extends its hospitality to Canadian firms that want a presence in the state.

Indeed, as of 2021, according to Canada's trade fact sheet, Canada had 157 businesses employing 13,357 workers in Tennessee.

For instance, Ontario-based heating and cooling solutions manufacturer Direct Coil announced in 2020 it would build its first U.S. facility in Lincoln County, investing $14.4 million over five years.

In addition, the former Bowater paper plant in Calhoun, Tennessee, is now owned by a Canadian company, Paper Excellence Pulp & Paper Mills. And a Canadian company is touted as the likely developer for the potential deployment of a small modular reactor for the Clinch River Nuclear Site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

(In 2017, Tennessee led the nation in the number of workers employed by a foreign company — 5% of the state's 2.6 million people who were working in the private sector.)

While this summer's wildfires haze may be an undesirable foreign commodity, apparently rape seed oil (a $107 million import for the state — we had to look it up, too), food preparations ($79 million) and beverages ($39 million) are wanted.

So we can't be too hard on our neighbors to the north. After all, they gave us instant replay, basketball (though Canadian Dr. James Naismith invented it in the U.S.), insulin (thanks to Canadians Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best), peanut butter (a concoction originally called "peanut paste" by Canadian pharmacist Marcellus Gilmore Edson), the walkie-talkie (the product of Canadian inventor Donald Hings known initially as a "packset") and IMAX (demonstrated first by three Canadian filmmakers at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan).

Of course, there's also the paint roller, the garbage bag, the pager, the pacemaker and the electric wheelchair. Oh, yeah, and road lines. They gave us those, too.

Canadians are also the No. 1 customer for Tennessee goods. So there's that.

With all that in mind, as long as the same winds that brought the haze in blow it back out again, we can put up with a little inconvenience from our friends to the north.