Killer pollution increasing: Study

1,700 premature deaths ‘preventable’
Toronto a leader in nitrogen dioxide level

Kerry Gillespie
City Hall Bureau
July 9, 2004 – The Toronto Star – GTA Edition, Page A18

Air pollution contributes to the deaths of 1,700 people in Toronto each year and sends 6,000 to hospital, a study has found.

“Those premature deaths and hospital admissions are preventable,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, said when she released the city’s report on air pollution yesterday.

Air pollution is caused by a combination of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particles. These are the by-products of everyday activities such as heating and lighting homes and offices, and industries such as steel plants.

But vehicles – from the family car to industrial equipment – are the biggest producers of air pollution in Toronto.

Even though cars are getting cleaner, the pollution they cause is getting worse because there are more of them on the road and people are spending more time in them, Yaffe said.

Toronto’s air, compared to 27 other large cities, ranks around the middle of the list for most pollutants.

But when it comes to nitrogen dioxide, which increases with vehicle use, Toronto ranks fourth highest, just behind Los Angeles, Hong Kong and New York, the study found.

Some cities have successfully reduced air pollution. During the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, restrictions on vehicle use dramatically reduced air pollution – and childhood asthma attacks – during that time, Yaffe said.

To reduce air pollution here, the city needs provincial help.

“The city lacks the necessary jurisdiction, authority and resources to improve air quality.” Yaffe said.

The Board of Health is recommending the provincial government:

  • Fund public transit expansion.
  • Co-ordinate land use planning and transportation throughout the GTA to reduce urban sprawl.
  • Promote energy conservation and renewable energy sources.
  • Reduce industrial emissions of ozone and fine particles.
  • Establish air quality standards.

The report doesn’t estimate how much all this would cost the province, but improving the transit system alone would take billions of dollars.

But Dr. David Pengelly, the lead author of the air pollution report, points out that the money is already being spent, governments just don’t realize it.

“We’re paying to deal with (the) health problems of people who have to go the hospital because of bad air quality, people who can’t go to work… that’s costing the economy,” he said.

Councilor John Filion, chair of the health board, said he hopes when people realize how much harm air pollution is causing them and others they will want to do their part to help.

For instance, after last year’s blackout, Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) said people banded together to reduce energy use.

“We need people to do everything they can to reduce their energy consumption all the time,” he said.