30% of Canadians exposed to air pollution from road traffic – with SUV’s and diesel trucks the top polluters

The scientific journal Nature underscored the health dangers of air pollution in an April 2019 editorial titled, “Stop denying the risks of air pollution”, which stating that exposure to outdoor air pollution accounts for 4.2 million deaths globally each year, according to the World Health Organization.   Although we face nothing like the tragic current situation in Delhi India , Canadians should  not be complacent. A two-year study into traffic-related pollutant concentrations found that nearly 30 per cent of Canadians live near major roadways and thus are exposed to a “soup” of pollutants in their daily lives.

air pollution 2019 coverScientists measured pollutants at six monitoring stations near Toronto, including Highway 401, and Vancouver  between 2015 – 2017, and published their latest results in October, in Near-road air pollution Pilot Study . Findings include:

Highly polluting diesel trucks are making a disproportionate contribution and they represent the major source of key pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and black carbon. Data for these pollutants indicate that excessive exposure to diesel exhaust can occur near roads with a significant proportion of truck traffic.

Canada’s cold winters can increase concentrations. Ultrafine particle concentrations, for example, are higher in winter. Nitrogen oxide concentrations are higher on cold winter days, suggesting that the emission control systems for diesel vehicles may not perform well at low temperatures.

… non-tailpipe emissions of particles from brakes and tires have been rising in Toronto since 2012 and now exceed primary emissions through tailpipes. The cause is attributed to the growing popularity of SUVs and pickup trucks, which cause more tire and brake wear because they’re heavier.

 

Many of  the recommendations of the pollution study relate to strategies for continued scientific monitoring of transport-related pollution, but the report also recommends:

“Exposure to traffic-related air pollutants should be reduced where people live, work and play. Strategies should be taken to shape communities so that residents’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution is reduced. These strategies can contribute to existing plans for vibrant and compact communities. For example, a mix of land uses (e.g., commercial, retail, etc.) can be promoted within higher exposure areas; pedestrian and cycling infrastructure can be moved away from high exposure areas; and walkability, transit service quality and access, and parking management can be improved. Indoor exposure can be reduced by improving building design and operation, including ventilation and filtration systems.”

The research was conducted over a two-year period by The Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research at the University of Toronto (SOCAAR), in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and Metro Vancouver.  The lead author is Professor Greg Evans of the University of Toronto.  The full report is available in English only; a  Summary report is available in English or French from this link .

Although the results have been published previously in academic journals, the study was widely covered in the media – for example,  in the Toronto Globe and Mail , and a thorough summary by the CBC .

The growing threat of SUV’s and Diesel trucks :

An October blog  by the International Energy Agency highlighted “a dramatic shift” to SUV’s: “…there are now over 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010, accounting for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, compared with less than 20% a decade ago.” The full analysis underlying the blog will be published in the forthcoming World Energy Outlook 2019 in mid-November 2019.

In Canada, heavy duty trucks form the majority of the freight fleet, and freight transport accounts for 10.5% of our greenhouse gas emissions.  The Pembina Institute published  Fuel savings and emissions reductions in heavy-duty trucking in May 2019, to provide a roadmap to the technological solutions already available to reduce trucking emissions.  On October 16, the Capital Plan for Clean Prosperity published recommendations for the transportation sector:  How greening transport can boost economy and curb GHGs These policy recommendations deal with all personal transportation, public transit,  and freight transportation; regarding freight, the Capital Plan recommends that a federal grant system be established to allow for 50% of new freight trucks to be zero emissions vehicles, at an estimated total cost of $14.4B .  Estimated benefits for the freight industry include emissions reductions,  savings of $53.8 billion in fuel and maintenance costs, and  24,800 to 50,000 new jobs in the freight industry alone.

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