Friday, May 9, 2014

Has Health Impacts fromToronto's Traffic-Related Air Pollution Become Worse?

Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness Update(15 page pdf, Dr. David McKeown, Medical Officer of Health, City of Toronto Board of Health, Apr. 11, 2014)

Today we review an updated report from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health on the health impacts from air pollution in Canada’s largest city (and the 4th largest in the USA and Canada). The good news is that the number of premature deaths have decreased by 23% and hospitalizations by 41% over the last decade showing the benefits of a number of steps taken to reduce vehicle emissions including a Bike Plan, A Green Fleet Plan and the ChemTrac program to follow emissions from businesses. A major improvement also resulted from the provincial order to shut down all coal-fired utilities by 2014.

The bad news is that traffic related pollution contributes to 20% of these deaths and if one considers only pollution originating from within city boundaries, 42% of deaths. One culprit is the role of heavy, diesel-powered vehicles which make up only 1.5% of vehicles but are responsible for 80% of PM 2.5 and over half of NOx emissions. One recommendation is to develop an urban freight strategy which would shift truck delivery away from rush hours and improve efficiency. Another is to add to the present network of four surface air monitors in order to pin point sources of air pollution which also include toxic gases from businesses in the city.

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Key Quotes:

 “In 2004, TPH reported that air pollution contributed to an estimated 1,700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospitalizations in Toronto each year.”

 “air pollution in Toronto from all sources currently gives rise to 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations annually..estimates include the impact of pollution originating in other parts of Ontario and the United States and represent a decrease of 23% in premature deaths and 41% in hospitalizations as compared with 2004 estimates.”

 “traffic has the greatest impact on health, contributing to about 280 premature deaths and 1,090 hospitalizations each year, or about 20% of all premature deaths and 30% of all hospitalizations due to air pollution…[within city boundaries] premature deaths and hospitalizations attributable to traffic are 42% and 55%, respectively.”

 “air pollution in Toronto from traffic sources may contribute to 800 episodes of acute bronchitis among children, 42,900 asthma symptom days (also mostly among children), 43,500 days where respiratory symptoms such as chest discomfort, wheeze, or sore throat would be reported, and 128,000 days when people would stay in bed or otherwise cut back on normal activities as a result of air pollution”

“In 2009, heavy vehicles made up just 1.5% of Canada's vehicle fleet, but according to data from Environment Canada, they were responsible for almost 80% of PM2.5 emissions and over half of NOx emissions from vehicles in Ontario.”

 “an urban freight strategy could improve the efficiency of deliveries in the city. Such a strategy could consider ideas such as off-peak deliveries, better on-street parking for truck loading, and use of advanced technologies that combine on-road data with mapping systems to improve delivery efficiency.”
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