April 21, 2015 4:24 pm
Updated: April 21, 2015 5:45 pm

Toronto’s vehicle pollution travels farther than previously thought: U of T

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WATCH ABOVE: Three news studies from the University of Toronto reveal that half of Torontonians and one third of Ontarians may be exposed to harmful particulate matter. Peter Kim reports.

University of Toronto researchers used a mobile lab, similar in appearance to a postal truck, to accurately measure how far ultra fine particulate matter was travelling throughout Toronto. Their work has resulted in three studies looking at the quality of Toronto’s air, and it turns out it’s worse than previously thought.

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“Previously people thought the emissions from vehicles travelled 100 – 150 metres from the roadway. We’re finding it’s now over 280 metres from the roadway,” said Greg Evans, a chemical engineer and one of the study’s authors.

More troubling still is that the ultra fine “nano” particles measured are not regulated or monitored by the government, according to Evans.

“The reason we’re so concerned is that because they are small they can get way down into your lungs. They’re much smaller than a red blood cell, so they can get inside red blood cells and move to different locations in the body.”

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An intensity map provided by the University of Toronto reveals where the concentrations of air pollution are the greatest. Hot spots include along Hwy. 401, Hwy. 427 and the downtown core. Air pollution in general has been linked to chronic disease.

“The World Health Organization has said that outdoor air pollution can potentially lead to lung cancer. It can lead to cardiac or respiratory issues as well, so heart disease, lung disease,” said Connie Choy, Air Quality Coordinator with the Lung Association of Ontario.

“It’s a very potentially serious health issue.”

The Canadian Medical Association reports that 21,000 people die prematurely each year in Canada because of air pollution. But the findings aren’t all bad news. Researchers discovered that 25 per cent of vehicles were spewing 90 per cent of the harmful pollution.

“These are older, poorly tuned cars or older trucks,” said Evans, meaning a targeted solution such as retrofitting these problem polluters could go a long way in addressing the problem.

The new findings could also help inform development decisions like where residential construction occurs and public policy.

“Obviously the better public transit that is available, the more people will take it and the fewer cars will be on the road,” said Choy.

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