Local air pollution from small sources like autobody shops
and corner laundries cause the deaths of at least 120 city
residents each year, according to the Toronto Star citing a Toronto
Public Health study called ChemTRAC.
ChemTRAC is a program implemented by the City of Toronto under
its Environmental Reporting, Disclosure and Innovation Program,
which includes the Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Bylaw (Municipal Code Chapter 423). It has three
elements: (1) it requires businesses to report on their use and
release of 25 priority substances if they meet certain thresholds;
(2) the analysis and release of that chemical data to the public
(see the ChemTRAC interactive
map with neighbourhood data); and (3) supports for businesses
to reduce their use and release of priority substances. The
substances tracked include solvents, metals and combustion
by-products that can cause short and long-term health effects.
The program has been phased in over three years. The 2014
ChemTRAC report is the first report to include information from
facilities in all industrial and commercial sectors subject to the
bylaw, including businesses like funeral parlors, medical
laboratories and dry cleaning shops. The program captures data from
these smaller businesses that are not subject to federal or
provincial reporting obligations.
In 2013, 745 facilities reported their chemical releases for the
prior business year. In total, approximately 71,000 tones of
priority substances were reported as used in 2012. Of this, about
10% or 8,000 tonnes were released to the environment. The
substances released in largest quantities were smog-forming
pollutants like volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and
fine particulate matter, but five other compounds were also
identified as having potential health impacts even though they were
released in smaller amounts: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(PAHs), cadmium, tetrachloroethylene (or perc), mercury and
Toronto Public Health has estimated that the pollutants emitted
within Toronto's borders in 2013 contributed to 670 deaths and
1,970 hospitalizations, with local industries contributing to 18%
of those deaths and 10% of the hospitalizations.
How does Toronto Public Health know that the local release of
these chemicals contributed to 120 deaths?
The answer to that is not clear, but we intend to take a closer
look. The toxicology of air pollution has been evolving steadily
over time. An excellent overview can be found in a paper recently
published by researchers from the United States Environmental
Protection Agency in the Oxford journal Toxicological Sciences. The beginning of
society's collective knowledge on this topic goes back to our
understanding that the "smoky fires of early cave and hut
dwellers" impacted our ability to breath. During the
industrial revolution, hospitalizations and deaths increased during
times of great smog. Today, the World Health Organization estimates that air
pollution kills about 7 million people a year and is linked to 1 in
8 deaths worldwide.
Air pollution is usually not identified as the sole cause of a
death or a sickness, but rather as a contribution to an illness in
an individual already at risk due to, for example, a heart
condition or some other ailment. The illnesses identified are
usually heart or respiratory related.
There is no data currently available to say that air pollution
has caused a particular cancer. The logical extension of this is
that an individual considering a legal action due to a concern
about her local dry cleaner causing her an illness has a real
uphill battle. At best, such cases require air sampling and
computerized airflow modeling to prove that contaminants were
released from a local business at above allowable levels such that
an individual was exposed on such a sufficient or frequent basis
that an illness was more likely than not caused by that exposure.
This is nearly impossible to prove for most chemicals and extremely
expensive, and even then may not be enough to prove causation of
the relevant illness.
But Toronto Public Health is doing a great service by tracking
this pollution data at the local level. Residents may
want to take a look at TPH's map to get an idea of what is going
on in their neighbourhoods. Businesses should take advantage of
TPH's guidance for pollution prevention.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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