TTC clarifies air quality in subway system is ‘safe’ following report on high pollution levels

The TTC says "air quality in the subway system is safe," despite a report released Tuesday outlining high pollution levels. Adam Frisk/Global News

The TTC is clarifying information surrounding a report earlier this week on subway pollution levels, which has led to some employees in “work refusal” situations.

The study by Health Canada in a scientific, peer-reviewed academic journal compared dust exposure levels between major transit properties. It found fine particulate matter on Toronto’s subway system was “very metal rich” and 10 times higher than the pollution of a Toronto street. Compared to Montreal’s subway platform, Toronto’s pollution levels were three times higher, and five times higher than Vancouver’s system.

READ MORE: High levels of pollution found on TTC subway system: study

On Wednesday, a day after the report’s findings were released, the Ministry of Labour was called in to investigate after three TTC subway operators and one maintenance employee felt they should be permitted to wear masks while working in the subway system. They were told to remove the masks by TTC management.

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Click to play video: 'TTC operator taken off job for refusing to remove mask after air quality report: union' TTC operator taken off job for refusing to remove mask after air quality report: union
TTC operator taken off job for refusing to remove mask after air quality report: union – Apr 26, 2017

WATCH ABOVE: The union representing TTC workers says it plans to take action after a train operator was taken off the job for refusing management requests to remove his protective face mask.

A union representative told AM640 on Wednesday, it was not a work refusal situation, but rather, the TTC has refused to let a worker drive with a mask on.

In a statement Thursday, the TTC said the Ministry of Labour ruled the air in the subway was “not likely to endanger,” and that the transit agency had met all of its legal and due diligence obligations.

“The conditions within the subway didn’t warrant employees wearing masks,” read the statement.

The TTC said the purpose of the study was to gather information about dust levels and not to draw conclusions about the impact of the dust levels on health.

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“It’s most regrettable that a comparison to the air quality on the TTC was, in certain media articles, made to that of Beijing, one of the planet’s most polluted cities. Doing so, frankly, has caused harm to the TTC’s reputation and unnecessary alarm for some TTC employees,” TTC CEO Andy Byford said in a written statement.

READ MORE: TTC operator taken off the job for refusing to remove mask after air quality report: union

Health Canada has been in contact with the TTC to clarify the study’s results. A letter to the transit agency on Thursday said, “It is important to note that [the comparison to Beijing] can be misinterpreted when simplified.”

“Air quality in Beijing is often at levels much higher than that observed in Toronto subways during peak transit hours.”

The TTC notes there have been advances since the study was conducted in 2011 to help mitigate and reduce particulate matter on subway trains, including the introduction of new trains and the refurbishment of HVAC systems on older trains. In 2014, a special cleaning crew was created to help remove thick debris buildup on tunnel walls to reduce airborne dust and particulates, and a vacuum car with a HEPA filter, a “gold standard for air filtration,” will arrive on TTC property later this year.

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The transit agency states, “these measures are further evidence of the TTC’s commitment to a healthy and safe public transit system.”

— With files from Kerri Breen, AM640

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