TTC to launch its own subway air quality study this year

Aug 30 2017, 9:53 pm

The TTC is looking to undertake a one-year study focusing on the air quality in its subway system.

Earlier this year, 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 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 new report by the TTC states that a study will soon be underway.

“There is a substantial body of evidence that links ambient (outdoor) particulate matter exposure to a range of adverse health outcomes such as increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and premature death,” states the report, which is being presented at the TTC Board meeting on September 5. The report explains that particulate matter refers to small particles in the air, and has a wide range of sizes. “However, there is limited information about the potential health impacts of PM found in subway systems.”

But a comprehensive study of Toronto’s subway has not been done in 22 years. The air quality studies in the TTC were done in 1977, 1980, and 1995.

“These were performed to provide information on the air quality in the underground portions of the subway and determined both employee and customer exposures to airborne contaminants,” notes the report. “It was determined that the subway air quality would not affect the health of employees or customers who do not have pre-existing serious respiratory condition.”

The TTC will be updating the subway air quality study to provide current information on the air quality in the underground portions of the subway and will determine employee exposures to airborne contaminants, and will work alongside Toronto Public Health (TPH.)

And according to the TTC, the cost of Subway Air Quality study is approximately $400,000 and the cost of the health assessment by Toronto Public Health is $100,000 for a total cost of $500,000. Approximately half of this cost will be incurred in 2017 and will be accommodated within the 2017 Operating budget through expenditures in other areas. The funds for the remaining portion to be completed in 2018 will be incorporated into the 2018 Operating budget request.

The study will focus primarily on the underground portions of the subway system (tunnels and platform levels) and station locations have been selected to duplicate previous studies in order for long term comparisons to be made. Sampling will be conducted during regular operating hours, mostly during morning rush hour as this was how the previous study was conducted and would be considered the worst case scenario, according to the report.

Earlier this year, the TTC said the introduction of new subway trains and refurbishment of HVAC systems on older subway trains have helped mitigate and reduce particulate matter on trains. Additionally, in 2014, the TTC created a special cleaning crew to remove thick debris buildup on tunnel walls that will reduce airborne dust and particulates. In a press release in April, the TTC also said “a new vacuum car with a HEPA filter – a gold standard for air filtration” would be 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 April release.

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