High levels of pollution found on TTC subway system: study

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WATCH: A new study suggests Toronto transit users are exposed to higher levels of pollution when riding the subway system, when compared with other major Canadian cities. As Erica Vella reports, the TTC union is not happy about the study's findings – Apr 25, 2017

A new study suggests Toronto transit users are exposed to higher levels of pollution when riding the subway system, when compared with other major Canadian cities.

The study, which was released on Tuesday by Environmental Science and Technology, shows the quality of air on the TTC subway system is 10 times more polluted than the air outside.

“We decided to take a closer look at what Canadians are breathing when they commute,” Keith Van Ryswyk, the study’s lead author, told Global News Tuesday.

“We designed a study to assess the air pollution exposure levels to Canadians in private cars, buses and subways.”

Samples were taken from Monday to Friday during morning and evening peak hours for three weeks in the summer of 2010 and three weeks in the winter of 2011.

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“We compared the PM2.5 levels that we measured in the system to levels that what measured outside during the same time,” he said.

Researchers found signs of a significant steel source in the particulate matter on the subway platforms and pollution levels on Toronto’s subway system were three times higher than Montreal’s Metro and five times higher than Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

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While there are learning opportunities to take away from the study, Van Ryswyk added TTC riders don’t need to be overly concerned.

“In the study we didn’t characterize the health effects of the matter,” he said.

“But research suggests that there are benefits to keeping them as low as achievable and that’s what we are going to be doing moving forward with the results of this research. We are going to be working with the [TTC] to assess the effect of several measures to their system that may contribute to better air quality.”

The TTC union, ATU Local 113, said in a statement they are demanding answers.

“Toronto’s subway workers and riders deserve better from TTC management,” Kevin Morton, ATU Local 113’s Secretary-Treasurer said.

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“Time and time again, TTC management has resisted the union’s requests for air quality testing on the subway system. Transit workers and riders want to be assured they haven’t been exposed to harmful pollution by simply putting in an honest day’s work or commuting to a job.”

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In a statement, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the TTC remains a “safe system” for customers and employees and plays a “vitally important role in reducing pollution caused by vehicle emissions.”

“This study was not intended to assess impacts on overall health; rather it looked at levels of certain commonly occurring particulates and pollution,” Green said.

“This research was done in 2010 and 2011 at a time we had already started taking steps that will improve air quality on the trains and reduce certain pollutants in the underground stations.”

Green added the TTC recently made updates to improve air quality which include refurbishments to older HVAC systems on the T1 trains as well as the purchase of a tunnel vacuum car with a HEPA-certified filtration system.

“We will continue to work with Health Canada to monitor the steps we are already taking to improve air quality including the impact our mitigation measures have had,” he said.”That work begins this summer.”


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