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Redefining a Breath of Fresh Air in Toronto

study, Toronto has been established as the 4th largest polluted city in the world when compared to 27 major cities worldwide. Followed by New York, Beijing, and Los Angeles, Toronto is considered a mass environmental straggler rather than an environmental leader. What is causing our city to be so polluted? The burning of fossil fuels and toxic gas emissions from industry and power plants are the leading causes of air pollution. Downtown driving and the lack of laws to reduce harmful emissions in Toronto are causing unnatural toxins to flood the air. According to a report by Global News’ Sean Smallen last Wednesday, there are 11,000 pollutant emitters in the city and only those that

emit more than 10 tons annually, are required to report. Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory, an agency that provides information on pollutants in the air, requires that only the largest emitters in the city need to report. This leaves the city with thousands of other emitters that continue to release large amounts of toxins into the air. Smallen noted that only 3% of polluters are required to submit paperwork, which accounts for less than 25% of Toronto emissions. This leaves the polluters that do not have to report continuing to produce three quarters of our city’s air pollution. The long-term effects of pollution are the developments of smog and acid rain, which pose a hazardous impact on the environment and the



A look at Air Pollution in Toronto, the Government’s inaction, and how the environment and our bodies are wreaking the pain.

Did you know that Toronto is one of the most polluted cities in the world? Every time you take a breath of air in the city your body becomes filled with toxic chemicals. After a 10-year

Star, Toronto. "Clear targets needed to cut emissions." Daily Mercury (Guelph, Ont.). 13 Oct 2006. A11. eLibrary. Proquest. 09 Feb 2007. <>.

human body.2 Even though humans are the environmental culprits, the government has the ultimate power to improve the Canadian environment. Rules need to be set to enforce those of the automobile and power plant industries to reduce emissions. According to the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), a group devoted to finding solutions to Toronto’s environmental problems, the government is not living up to its responsibilities. TEA’s energy campaigner Dr. Franz Hartmann explains “4,500 Torontonians will die prematurely due to smog over the next three years.”3 While the government supports the Clean Air Act,

an organization created to protect our environment, the government does not realize that the organization is not effective. Hartmann explains that the Clean Air Act plans to engage in three more years of discussion before solutions are fulfilled. Hartmann argues that there has been a decade of talk about implementing solutions, though since no real action has been taken, the air just keeps deteriorating. The government’s inaction is actually making Toronto’s air quality problems worse.

As the government is the central power holder in today’s society, the TEA group is calling on the government to raise regulations on greenhouse gas emissions coming from vehicles, industry, and power plants in Toronto. Since Toronto has made the decision to ban indoor pollution (cigarette smoke), TEA believes that the government has the power to restrict hazardous outdoor pollution. This year, TEA has requested that both the provincial and federal governments restrict the emission of greenhouse gases that are decaying the air. Plus, they are advocating for a greener public transit system and demanding limits to urban sprawl. The group is also promoting the use of green cars and green energy to replace

“Air pollution kills thousands each year: Health Canada.” CBC News, Toronto, 2006 < ion050502.html>. 3 Winesberg, Harry. “Clean Air Act Press Release.” Toronto Environmental Alliance 19 Oct 2006. 22 Jan 2007 <>.

hazardous chemicals coming from nuclear plants.

Last October, TEA’s annual air quality report concluded that Toronto’s air quality level is currently rated a ‘D.’ This study measured air pollution in areas across the city to identify where improvements have been made and what problems are still to be resolved. On a positive account, the study found that the number of green vehicles have increased in Toronto, although there are still not enough to make a significant change to the air quality. The report concluded that Toronto is lacking in an effort to obtain greener sources of energy. Solutions that need to be implemented include the use of wind and solar power, the reduction of pollutant emissions, and the promotion of a bike and pedestrian-friendly Toronto.4 A recent article in the Toronto Star explained that Toronto’s poor environmental situation is a top priority for 2007: a year where solutions need to be fulfilled. Why is this the year of change? Green activists explain that public concern is high as air pollution is worse then ever before. While the

green activists are pushing the idea that changes need to be made soon. These activists along with the TEA group are currently calling on all levels of government to execute change. Specifically, they are requesting that the Harper Government make some clear targets to cut emissions, set a date to which auto companies make reductions, and most essentially create a clear

timeline.5 Green activists have argued for many years that the government is not only ignoring the issue, but is fooling citizens into believing that change is being made. Since it is expensive for the government to physically clean the air, green activists believe that the government merely promotes the idea that they are cleaning up the environment

Winesberg, Harry. “Clean Air Act Press Release.” Toronto Environmental Alliance 19 Oct 2006. 22 Jan 2007 <>.

current conservative government is now showing that they want to take action,

Gorrie, Peter. “2007: The Environment’s Time.” Toronto Star 8 Jan 2004: C5.

(via ad campaigns) in order to conceal their inaction. Activists conclude that it costs less to promote an ad campaign than it does to do the dirty work. For example, Shell Canada continuously promotes itself as an environmentally friendly business, when in reality the company constantly harms the environment though the production of heavy sour crude.

has been taken. Last year with the election of Stephen Harper to Prime Minister change began to seem hopeful, as he described his plan to turn the environment around like Brian Mulrooney did in the past. After a year of talk, real action has not been taken. Even though the Harper government has addressed the environment as a top priority alongside taxes and crime, it is being put off. Currently, government officials are having prolonged debates with automakers about emission reduction.6 Last October, Harper met with auto executives to discuss emission regulations, although they could not

him that the auto industry needs time to adjust, and now it seems as though they have won.7 While automakers are prolonging inaction, they are not the only ones to blame for the lack of environmental cleanup. The government continues to step back because of the cost of having to rebuild the environment. While it is true that the government will need to spend significant funds to clean up the air, they need to realize that by not taking action now, problems are going to continue to get worse and more expensive in the future. By not implementing change now, air pollution will increase and more people will get sick. According to a recent study by the Ontario Medical


come to a conclusive decision. During their debate automakers tried to convince

After decades of promises from the federal government to make positive changes to the environment, no action

Chartrand, Fred. “Harper says environment to be priority in 2007.” Canadian Press, Ottawa, 2006 < /20061219/harper_yearend_061219?s_name=&no>

Star, Toronto. "Clearing the air on Clean Air Act; All emissions are not the same Older autos are major contributors." Toronto Star. 28 Oct 2006. G25. eLibrary. Proquest. 09 Feb 2007. <>.

Association, “air pollution costs Ontario more than one billion dollars a year in hospital admissions as a result of illnesses triggered by air pollution.” Thus, it is already costing the government billions by ignoring the problem.

temperature change, rates of illness are also increasing. Greenhouse gases, smog, and the burning of fossil fuels, are three major cancer-causing pollutants that leave thousands of Torontonians dead each year.9 In 2005, Health Canada reported that air pollution is the leading cause of death in Canada when compared to other fatal reasons such as cancer, vehicle accidents, and skin and viral diseases. Health Canada’s 2006 report concluded that approximately 5,900 deaths are attributed to air

2,000 early deaths and 6,000 hospital admissions in 2006. This is an increase from the previous study in 2002 that calculated a rate of 1,400 early deaths and 5,500 hospital admissions.11


So what exactly in the air is killing Canadians? According to a recent health study conducted by Health Canada, tiny airborne particles are the culprits. Scientifically titled PM 2.5, these particles are made up of invisible pieces of dust that come from a combination of vehicle, power plant, and

pollution annually in Canada, which is slightly higher than the estimated 5,000 deaths recognized by the study in 2002.10 In Toronto alone, there were nearly

Toronto’s poor air quality not only floats outside Toronto streets but within the bodies of Canadians. While harmful chemicals increasingly interrupt the ecosystem and dangerously cause

Environment Canada. “Air pollution is linked to varying degrees to a number of health concerns.” Canada’s Clean Air Act, 2006.

Ferguson, Alan. "A ton of Canadians will agree with this crackdown on toxic chemicals." Vancouver Province. 12 Dec 2006. A20. eLibrary. Proquest. 09 Feb 2007. <>. 10 Health Canada. “Air Pollution kills estimated 5,900 Canadians every year.” Health Canada News Release, Ottawa 2006 <>.

“Tiny air pollutants linked to heart disease.” CBC News, Toronto, 2007 < ates-heart.html?ref=rss#skip300x250>.

industry pollutants. These particles cling to toxic gases in the air, and once breathed in, they attach to the blood vessels and the lungs and cause inflammation. Contact with these particles will aggravate the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, which can lead to breathing problems and heart disease.12 A study by the Environmental Defence Department, a company that researches the quality of the environment and public health, tested six adults and seven children to measure the amount of toxic chemicals within their bodies. After testing a urine and blood sample from each person, between 40 and 50 industrial chemicals were found within the adults while even higher levels

were found in the children. Executive director of Environmental Defence, Rick Smith, said quote “harmful pollutants are contaminating the bodies of Canadians no matter where they live, how old they are, or where they work.”13 Smith concluded that children are more vulnerable than adults because the toxins could disrupt hormonal developments.

released, the statistics did not seem to push the Harper government to think twice about their environmental inaction. As a solution, last month the Environmental Defence Department came up with a study to make the effects of air pollution hit the politicians close to home. In order to ultimately capture the Harper government’s attention, the study was created to measure the bodies of four federal politicians for 103 different pollutants. NDP leader Jack Layton, Liberal MP John Godfrey, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, and Health Minister Tony Clement favourably volunteered. The study surprisingly concluded that each politician had between 50 and 55 chemicals trapped within their bodies. This study inevitably confirmed Environmental Defence Minister Rick Smith’s statement


After a year from which the Environmental Defences’ study was

“Tiny air pollutants linked to heart disease.” CBC News, Toronto, 2007 < ates-heart.html?ref=rss#skip300x250>.

Favaro, Avis. “Pollutions tiniest toxins get trapped in body.” CTV News, Toronto, 2003 < /1053386040554_32/hub=ctvnews>

that pollution affects everyone. According to Smith, Environmental Defence is hopeful that these results will grab the Harper government’s attention to finally rid harmful substances in the air Canadians breathe.

world.”15 It is difficult to decipher whether this statement should be viewed as a move to improve the environment or a sheer backlash against the previous government. Harper went on to explain that he understands the concerns of Canadians and concluded that he promises to impose strict fuel efficiency standards for automobiles beginning 2011. But what about implementing changes now? Why do we have to wait so many years? Canadian politician David McGuinty criticized Harpers promise by arguing, “this is an opportunity or an attempt by the Prime Minister to buy time and give the impression he is doing something meaningful.”16

While this study


confirms the hazardous affects of polluted air on the body, these numbers also come as an effective way to shock politicians. Earlier this month Harper made a speech to the Canadian Council in Ottawa admitting that after more than a decade of inaction on improving air quality, Canada is deteriorating. Harper repeatedly admitted “Canada has one of the worst records in the developed

The prevention of air pollution is a team effort. Scientists and researchers, business leaders, legislators, and the public need to get together to brainstorm and problem solve. As Harper has promised to not implement change for four more years, we must rely on ourselves as citizens to improve the environment. However, it is becoming difficult to rely on us to make efficient decisions. Environmental regulatory agencies consistently advocate the use of alternative fuels and alternative transportation such as walking, yet there


Environmental Defence. “Pollutants Contaminate Blood of Federal Politicians – Results show pollutants found in the environment.” Environmental Defence News Releases, Toronto 2007 < ess/viewnews.php?rd=3>.

Chartrand, Fred. “Harper Rolls out Tory Governments new agenda.” Canadian press, Ottawa, 2007 < >. 16 Chartrand, Fred. “Harper Rolls out Tory Governments new agenda.” Canadian press, Ottawa, 2007 < >.

is still no groundbreaking change.17 According to Health Canada, the public do not seem to be giving up their SUV’s. Health Canada reports that more people are driving sport-utility vehicles more than ever before. So what is the solution? As a mass of public environmental cleaning becomes unattainable, society needs the government to enforce strict laws to prevent air pollution. All Canadians can do is wait for the Harper government to implement change. According to Toronto Scientist Richard Peltier, if the Harper government does not take action soon, Toronto and all of Canada will lose its strength. He said quote “It’s a very sad thing to recognize, especially as Canadians,

because we pride ourselves on having such a beautiful environment to live in.”19 As Canadian citizens all we can do is hope and anticipate that Toronto and the rest of Canada will eventually transform from an environmental straggler to a healthy environmental leader. By: Kelly Foss


(250328894) Toronto Star News writer


Fulton, Jim. "BREATHING EASIER." Alternatives Journal. 31 Jan 2002. p 36. eLibrary. Proquest. 09 Feb 2007. <>.

Health Canada. “Road Traffic and Air Pollution.” Air Health Effects Division, Ottawa, 2005. 19 Wahl, Nicole. “Forecasting Earth’s Past and Future.” News@UofT: Science and Technology 8 Nov 2004. 28 Jan 2007 <>.