When it comes to sources of air pollution in Toronto, transportation is king, according to the most recent report from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health and Deputy City Manager, Internal Corporate Services. Air pollution in the city currently causes 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations each year – and transportation-related air pollution, or TRAP for short, is the largest local source of air pollution emissions. We need to act.
The good news: Toronto’s overall air quality is improving – in large part due to the phase-out of coal as an electricity-generation source in Ontario. But vehicle emissions remain a persistent public health risk that requires action – e.g. by implementing TransformTO.
Air pollution from vehicles is especially relevant in areas near heavily used roads. People who live, work, or attend school in buildings close to high traffic roadways have to endure higher health risks. It’s an even more serious problem for children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The joint report by Toronto Public Health and Environment & Energy recommends dealing with the situation in two ways. First, buildings near high-traffic roads that house sensitive populations – such as schools and long-term health care facilities – need to be adapted to help reduce indoor exposure to traffic pollution. But in the long run, we need to reduce use of the internal combustion engine.
This report layers in yet another evidence-based reason to speed up the necessary process of shifting Torontonians towards low-carbon transportation choices. “In the long term, building a low-carbon future as envisioned by Toronto’s TransformTO initiative offers numerous opportunities to reduce automobile dependency and reduce TRAP,” notes the City report, pointing to expanded infrastructure to increase use of electric vehicles and foster active transportation (walking and cycling).
The Medical Officer of Health’s concerns with TRAP are echoed by a federal report released this month. It pegs the cost of premature mortalities associated with gasoline vehicle emissions – along with further societal costs linked to respiratory illness as well as hospital and emergency room visits – at a staggering $7.3 billion in 2015.
The City of Toronto is set to debate the 2018 budget – including approximately $6 million annually to implement the TransformTO climate action plan – early in the New Year. These two recent reports provide useful context for the discussion on the costs of addressing carbon emissions and reducing air pollution from fossil fuel combustion. The research outlines the cost of doing nothing – about $2 billion a year in societal costs based on Toronto’s share of the national impacts of TRAP. It’s a cost to all residents of Toronto that must not be ignored.
Tackling air pollution – while reducing Toronto’s carbon emissions – is something worth investing in. After all, Torontonians of all ages, backgrounds, and income levels deserve a healthy and vibrant city to live in.