Air pollution in Toronto subways same as in Beijing: study

Posted Apr 26, 2017 by Arthur Weinreb
A study of air pollution in three Canadian subway systems showed the air quality in Toronto’s subway system is the worst. An author of the report compared the pollution in the subway system in Canada’s largest city to a day in Beijing.
Toronto subway.
Toronto subway.
Research for the study was conducted in 2010 and 2011 but its findings were just released this week. The research was conducted by Health Canada, Montreal’s McGill University and the University of Toronto.
The study measured the amount of air pollution in the subway systems in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. According to the report, concentrations of fine particulate matter found in the Toronto subway system was three times greater than on the Metro in Montreal and five times greater than found on Vancouver’s Sky Train.
The amount of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, in Toronto’s subway system was found to be 10 times greater than in the air just outside subway stations, leading one of the researchers to compare it to a typical day in Beijing.
It is believed the high concentration of fine particulate matter is caused by friction when the steel wheels of subway cars rub against the steel rails. Speeding trains then move the air in the tunnels into the stations. This would explain why the Toronto system has a higher amount than that found in Montreal and Vancouver. Montreal’s trains have rubber wheels while much of Vancouver’s Sky Train operates above ground.
TTC does damage control while transit union wants answers
Stuart Green, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), said the system was safe and the study was not intended to assess the impact of the pollution on the health of passengers and employees (as if that means there can be no health risk). Green also said the pollution would only affect those with serious pre-existing respiratory conditions and the TTC is taking measures for employees with pre-existing conditions. Green made no mention of customers with pre-existing conditions.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents the subway operators, maintenance workers and janitors who spend their entire working day underground, is upset the union and employees were not told about the pollution levels in advance; they learned about it from the media yesterday. The union is taking the position their employees are not safe and are demanding a meeting with the TTC. They also want to meet with the Ministries of Labour and Health as well as the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Green said the TTC did not discuss the matter with ATU Local 113 because the study was only done to obtain information to use in further studies and the study was not carried out to assess the health of employees or people using the subway system.
The Toronto Transit System also said
they have already taken steps to improve the air quality in the system such as using HVAC systems to pick up dust on the tracks.
The study was published Tuesday in the Environmental Journal of Science & Technology and can be read here.