The air quality in the TTC subway system is “not likely to endanger” workers, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
The ruling came in after three work refusals by subway operators and one maintenance employee who felt they should be permitted to wear masks while working in the subway system, said the TTC in a press release.
“The Ministry’s ruling confirmed that the TTC met all of its legal and due diligence obligations and that the conditions within the subway didn’t warrant employees wearing masks,” said the release. “In other words, the air quality in the subway system is safe and personal protective equipment related to air quality is not required.”
The work refusals were a result of a study published this week by Health Canada regarding the air quality in Toronto’s subway stations.
The study was conducted to compare dust exposures between major transit properties in Canada to help guide transportation planners to improve air quality for commuters. According to the TTC, the purpose of the study was to gather information about dust levels, not to draw conclusions about the impact of the dust levels on health.
“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,” said TTC CEO Andy Byford in a statement. “The TTC had already committed to its own air quality assessment and will begin that study later this year.”
TTC said that Health Canada wrote to the transit commission today to reiterate that the results of the study were never designed as a statement of health impacts of air quality in the subway system.
“While the results of this study have been compared to average air quality in Beijing, it is important to note that this comparison 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. Peak levels of air pollutants (particulate matter) in Beijing are often up to 8 times higher than the levels measured in the Toronto subway, and can last over periods of several days,” stated part of the Health Canada letter.
“In addition, there have been numerous studies of air quality in subway systems internationally, including those in London, New York, and Stockholm, and the results from Toronto are consistent with levels observed elsewhere.”
Yesterday, the TTC’s workers Union demanded a meeting with the organization to discuss the study and its implications on the staff.
“Over the years, ATU Local 113 has repeatedly requested air quality testing on the subway system. However, time and time again, TTC management has resisted these requests,” said the Union. “Transit workers deserve better and we want answers from TTC management.”
According to the TTC, since the study was conducted in 2011, the introduction of new subway trains and refurbishment of HVAC systems on older subway trains have helped mitigate and reduce particulate matter on trains.
And in 2014, the TTC said it created a special cleaning crew to remove thick debris buildup on tunnel walls that will reduce airborne dust and particulates. In addition, “a new vacuum car with a HEPA filter – a gold standard for air filtration – arriving on TTC property later this year.”
“Combined, these measures are further evidence of the TTC’s commitment to a healthy and safe public transit system,” stated the press release.