High traffic volumes, particularly trucks, on Hwy. 427 and the Gardiner Expressway and the particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide it emits is responsible for a less than 10 per cent increased risk of premature death for those living nearest the highways.
Last year, Toronto Environment and Energy Office researchers joined forces with Toronto Health to conduct a study in Etobicoke’s south-most wards to identify the sources and cumulative concentrations of 30 air quality contaminants that impact air quality.
Researchers released the results Wednesday night at a public meeting at The Assembly Hall attended by approximately 60 residents
The Wards 5 and 6 study’s key finding is that five of the pollutants exceeded air quality standards: nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter 10, particulate matter 2.5, benzo(a)pyrene, and benzene.
“Cars and trucks are far and away the greatest contributors of these five pollutants,” said Christopher Morgan with the city’s Environment and Energy Office. “Benzene and benzo(a)pyrene are clearly from transportation sources. PM10 is from cars and trucks: tires and brakes, not tailpipes, PM2.5 is from the tailpipes of cars and trucks.”
Neighbourhoods adjacent to Hwy. 427 were found to have worse air quality than those flanking the Gardiner because Hwy. 427 has a greater volume of traffic, particularly trucks, Morgan reported.
What can be done?
Morgan urged residents to advocate for better transportation emission standards and cleaner natural gas to improve the community’s air quality, which is not markedly worse than other areas of the city, Toronto Public Health officials reported.
“We need to work with the provincial ministries — environment, health and transportation — and the city divisions — Toronto Public Health, city planning, TTC and transportation regarding vehicle emissions, particularly trucks,” Morgan said.
“We need to go to those provincial ministries and convince them to advocate the issue to the feds by talking with other provinces. We need to connect with our major Canadian cities that all experience similar issues. Collectively, we need to advocate for improved emissions standards across Canada and North America. It will be difficult, and it will take time.”
Actions residents could take include: reducing natural gas consumption by cleaning their furnace annually, upgrading their home’s insulation to use less heating fuel and lowering the thermostat setting; driving less and using public transit or alternate modes of transportation, such as cycling, and undertaking green initiatives at home and in schools.
The five pollutants cumulatively exist at levels that increase the overall mortality rate for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases by 7.4 per cent.
That level of excess risk is consistent with what has previously been calculated in the Burden of Illness in Toronto, published by Toronto Public Health in 2004.
That study estimated air pollution contributes to 1,700 premature deaths in the city each year.
Those five criteria air contaminants show a higher risk of heart and lung disease, Stephanie Gower with Toronto Public Health said.
All of the non-carcinogens included in the study were found to occur below levels of concern to human health.
Eight of 19 carcinogens studied were found to be present at levels that could pose health risks, with 44 in one million people expected to develop cancer in his or her lifetime. The cancer-risk benchmark is one in a million.
Emissions from industrial businesses in the wards did not contribute significantly to the findings, said Morgan, noting two companies, Chrysler and National Silicates, improved their emissions by 75 per cent and 80 per cent respectively, in recent months.
Toronto Public Health tracks Toronto business emissions. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1dyWHZy
To learn more about the Wards 5, 6 air quality study, visit www.toronto.ca/localairquality