TTC passengers' health could be improved through better subway air quality: Toronto Public Health

Jan 6 2020, 8:03 am

A new study by Toronto Public Health has determined that it would benefit passenger health to improve the air quality on the TTC’s subway system, particularly on Line 2.

According to a release from the city, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, will present the findings of the recently completed study to the Board of Health on January 13. The report looks into the presence of “fine particulate matter air pollution” (PM2.5) within the city’s subway system.

Along with the report is a list of recommendations for both the board and city council to consider that would improve air quality and mitigate the impacts on rider health.

“The report released today concludes that taking the subway benefits the overall health of all Toronto residents, it notes that these benefits would be further enhanced by the implementation of short-term and long-term measures to improve subway air quality,” said Mayor John Tory, in a statement.

He also noted that until two years ago, the TTC hadn’t conducted a new test on air quality since 1995 and that the new study will help guide future improvements, both in the short and long term.

The study was conducted using air samples from 2017 to 2018. According to the city, air quality data collected in the Toronto subway system found elevated levels of PM2.5 that contained high levels of some metals.

“The Human Health Risk Assessment, which considered subway PM2.5 overall and individual metal components, concluded that levels of subway PM2.5 warrant mitigation, particularly on Line 2,” reads a summary of the findings.

PM2.5 is any all solid and liquid droplets suspended in air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less and can include aerosols, smoke, fumes, dust, ash, pollen, and metals.

Toronto Public Health said it is recommending that the TTC implement measures to reduce exposure to PM2.5 levels in the subway system.

They said this could include “employee training, reviewing TTC operations to identify where PM2.5 exposure can potentially be reduced and ongoing air quality monitoring.”

Overall, according to the findings, public transportation is still a net positive for users’ physical health, as it provides its riders with the opportunity to participate in activities like cycling or walking, and that the presence of elevated levels of PM2.5 is common in urban subway systems around the world.

“Taking public transit is a simple way to incorporate physical activity into our day by walking in between modes of transit, and it benefits everyone in our community by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution,” said Dr. de Villa.

“We prepared this report following a request from our Board of Health and are recommending ongoing mitigation strategies so that residents have continued access to an excellent transit system which is an important feature in a modern, growing city.”

Last year, the TTC released its year-long study that examined nearly 5,700 air samples from Toronto’s subway system and found the level of pollutants underground are within the occupational exposure limits that are mandated by the province.

The study was put in place after a report was released comparing the TTC’s subway air quality to the air pollution in Beijing, which alarmed many Torontonians. It also had the TTC’s workers Union demanding a meeting with the organization to discuss the study and its implications on TTC staff.

While it previously was reported that the air quality in the TTC subway system is “not likely to endanger” workers, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, a study was still required at the time.

As for the recent report, City council will consider the findings and future actions on January 29, after the presentation to the Board of Health.

With files from Ainsley Smith