Invest in Public Transit – It Benefits Everyone!

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE

Traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is a huge problem.   Many of us agree that we need to expand and improve public transit service to get cars off the road.  Huge strides have been made to improve public transit across the region over the last 10 years by all levels of government.  However, a significant funding gap still exists.  We need to let the candidates running for election know that we see public transit as an essential service that benefits all of us! Find your candidate here: (http://www.qpbriefing.com/2017/01/05/nominated-candidates-for-the-2018-ontario-provincial-election/)

Let your candidates know why public transit should be a priority:

  • It improves air quality, preventing hundreds of early deaths each year
  • It reduces chronic diseases that cost billions of dollars each year
  • It decreases traffic congestion that costs about $6 billion per year   
  • It increases access to jobs and recreation for those who cannot drive or do not have cars 
  • It slows climate climate and helps to secure a healthy future for our children.

Traffic-related air pollution in the GTHA gives rise to about 1000 early deaths and 3000 to 4000 hospital admissions each year.  Air pollution contributes to strokes and heart attacks. It aggravates asthma and respiratory infections.  It increases rates of heart disease and lung disease.   By investing in public transit across the region, we can reduce air pollution, save hundreds of lives each year, and reduce health care spending.

Each year, approximately 7,000 residents in the GTHA will develop heart disease and another 60,000 will develop diabetes.  The rates of these and other chronic diseases can be reduced by increasing levels of physical activity.  Studies have shown that people who take public transit get much of the physical activity needed to maintain their health because they walk or cycle at one or both ends of their transit trip.  By investing in public transit, we can increase physical activity, reduce chronic diseases, prevent hundreds of early deaths each year, and reduce health-related costs by nearly $1 billion each year.

With 7.1 million people living in the GTHA, residents in the region make approximately 13.6 million trips per day.  With the current population, traffic congestion costs us about $6 billion per year in delays, vehicle operating costs, traffic collisions, and lost economic activity.  These delays create stress and lost-time for drivers.  Time that could be spent with family or friends.   Time that could be spent playing soccer or riding a bike.  By investing in public transit, we can reduce traffic congestiondecrease lost time and stress for drivers, and save billions of dollars.

Transit also increases access to jobs, services and recreational opportunities for those who cannot drive or who do not own cars.  In this way, it can increase health, the quality of life, and opportunities for all members in our society.

The World Health Organization has declared climate change to be the greatest public health threat of the 21st century.  In Ontario, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.  Transit generates far fewer greenhouse gases than travel by car.  By investing in transit, we can reduce greenhouse gases, meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, and secure a healthy future for our children.

As we head into a Provincial election it is more important than ever to let your candidates know that public transit is an important investment that will benefit everyone!!  

Find your candidate here: http://www.qpbriefing.com/2017/01/05/nominated-candidates-for-the-2018-ontario-provincial-election/

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Climate Change Health Impacts Demand Urgent Action

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, November 3, 2017

“The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible – affecting the health of populations around the world, today. Whilst these effects will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in society, every community will be affected.”

This is one of the conclusions expressed in the new report, The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, that was released on October 31, 2017.  Produced by the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from 24 academic institutions and inter-governmental organizations, the new report identifies 31 indicators that can be used to measure the impact, adaptation, mitigation, economics, and politics of climate change on a global scale.

The Countdown notes that global inaction to mitigate climate change is moving us towards a 2.6°C to 4.8°C increase in the global temperature by the end of the century – “a level which would be disastrous to health even with maximal adaptation efforts”.  It states that “adaptation has limits” and that action is needed to “prevent the potentially irreversible effects of climate change.”

The message delivered by the Countdown is urgent and dire, but not without hope.  It also reports that “Whilst progress has historically been slow, the last five years have seen an accelerated response, and the transition to low-carbon electricity generation now appears inevitable.”

In Canada, the Countdown was released along with The Lancet Briefing for Canadian Policymakers,  authored by CAPE President-Elect, Dr. Courtney Howard, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), and the Lancet Countdown team. The policy brief examines several Countdown indicators that are particularly relevant to Canada.  For example, it reports that annual weather-related disasters in Canada have increased by 44% from 1994-2000 to 2000-2013, and notes that these events have affected hundreds of thousands of Canadians, if not more.

Canadians Impacted by Extreme Weather

  • 2013, Calgary flood – 100,000 people affected
  • 2014, Manitoba flood – 6,900 people affected
  • 2014, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories wildfires – poor air quality from smoke
  • 2015, La Ronge, Saskatchewan wildfires – 13,000 evacuated
  • 2016, Fort McMurray, Alberta wildfires – 88,000 people evacuated
  • 2017, Williams Lake, British Columbia wildfires – 24,000 people evacuated
  • 2017, Calgary and Vancouver – poor air quality from wildfire smoke

The policy brief reports that to meet the Paris Agreement, and keep global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C increase, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced to nearly zero by 2050.  This will require halving emissions every decade between now and then.

Several global policy priorities, which have the potential to produce immediate health benefits as well as long-term climate benefits, are discussed in the policy brief with Canadian data.  These include:

  • the need to replace coal-fired power plants with low to zero emitting sources by 2030;
  • the need to dramatically reduce the use of private motorized vehicles with public transit use, active modes of transportation, and telecommuting; and
  • the need to increase low-meat and plant-rich diets.

For more information, read the Lancet Briefing for Canadian Policymakers and see the CBC interview with CAPE President-Elect Dr. Courtney Howard.

Other Blogs on this topic:

https://physiciansfortheenvironment.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/a-national-cycling-strategy-a-triple-win-for-public-health/

https://physiciansfortheenvironment.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/coal-plants-have-a-significant-impact-on-air-quality-and-health-incomplete-facts-dont-change-the-truth/

https://physiciansfortheenvironment.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/ontarios-coal-plant-phase-out-produced-many-health-and-environmental-benefits/

Bloor Street West Bike Lane shows need for National Active Transportation Strategy

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, October 20, 2017

Last week, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee decided to maintain the Bloor Street West Bike Lane.  The bike lane was installed on Bloor Street from Shaw Street to Avenue Road as a pilot project for one year.  It was a watershed moment for bike lanes in Toronto because Bloor Street is one of the busiest streets in the city.  But the debate also exemplifies the desperate need for evidence-based direction from the federal government.

Before the installation of the Bloor Street West Bike Lane, this stretch of road was used by approximately 24,000 vehicles and 3,300 cyclists per each weekday, and recorded, on average, 22 collisions involving cyclists each year.  After the installation of the bike lane, cycling increased by 49% to 5,220 cyclists per week day, while the number of vehicle/cyclist conflicts was decreased by 61% (Toronto 2017).

City staff recommended maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane on the basis of several evaluation studies which found that: a significant number of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians felt the road was safer with the bike lane; driving time along this stretch increased by only 2 to 4 minutes respectively during peak times; customer spending increased among local businesses; and strong support for the bike lane was expressed by cyclists, pedestrians, local residents, and drivers who ride a bicycle on occasion (Toronto, 2017).

Sixty people and organizations were registered for deputations at this Committee meeting. Despite the positive results from the evaluation studies and the passion of the testimonies, two of the six councillors still voted against maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane.  Councillor Holyday and Councillor Mammoliti were fixated on the cost of installing the bike lanes, the risk of slowing vehicular traffic, and the loss of parking spots.  It was frustrating and disheartening.

Bike lanes reduce injuries and deaths among cyclists.  They increase levels of physical activity, which reduces chronic diseases, deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and health care costs.  Bikes emit no air pollutants and no greenhouse gases.  Bike lanes make jobs, services, and recreational opportunities more accessible to people who cannot drive and to those who cannot afford their own vehicles.  With so many health, environmental, and social benefits, why is it so difficult to get bike lanes installed?

We need to think  about bike lanes differently.  We have to think of them like sidewalks; essential infrastructure that protect people from vehicles while fostering healthy lifestyles.  We have to think of them like soccer fields and hockey arenas; community assets that promote physical activity and social cohesion.  We have to think of them like parks and greenspace; a land use use of land that improves air quality, mitigates climate change, and promotes mental health.

There is a role for the federal government to engage in this debate.  Chronic diseases cost Canada hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost-time and health care costs.  Bike lanes are a public health priority; one that could be fostered and promoted with a national strategy that includes targets, design criteria, and policies.  Citizens need help getting municipal councillors on side.  The federal government needs to get health care costs under control.  It is time for a National Active Transportation Strategy.

References:

Other Blogs on this topic:

A National Active Transportation Strategy can Reduce Chronic Diseases & Health Care Costs

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE

Eight national health organizations have sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Health asking her to invest in the development of a National Active Transportation StrategySignatories to the joint letter include Heart & Stroke, Diabetes Canada, Canadian Cancer Society, The Canadian Lung Association, Asthma Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Upstream, and CAPE.

The joint letter outlines a powerful public health and financial case for active transportation. Chronic diseases consume 67 per cent of the health care budget in Canada. These diseases cost Canadians $190 billion annually: about $65 billion in treatment and $135 billion in lost productivity.  Further, chronic disease rates are increasing rapidly, by about 14 per cent a year.  As a result, health care costs threaten to overwhelm provincial budgets across the country.

Fortunately, active transportation can help stem the tide. Physical activity reduces the risk of over 25 chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.  It also benefits mental health and arthritis.  Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Canadian adults get the 150 minutes of physical activity needed to achieve health benefits and fewer than one in 10 Canadian children get the 60 minutes a day of physical activity needed for healthy growth and development.  Changes to the built environment and other measures can increase physical activity, significantly reducing chronic diseases and their costs. One study found that the risk of premature death from all causes can be decreased by 28 per cent among people who cycle three hours per week and by 22 per cent among people who walk 29 minutes per day, seven days a week.

Increased walking and cycling can also reduce air pollution and its associated health impacts by replacing short car trips.  Investments in active transportation and public transit can also increase access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities among those who are unable to drive or cannot afford a car.  Changes such as speed reductions, separated bike lanes, and improved pedestrian crossings can also significantly reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists while also encouraging greater levels of physical activity.

A national alliance of active transportation organizations, including Green Communities Canada (Canada Walks), Canada Bikes, and the National ASRTS Working Group, have offered to lead the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy. This coalition would identify infrastructure funding and policies, design standards to be implemented, and support on-going partnerships and community action.

While the Federal Government has announced significant investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and transportation systems, without a National Active Transportation Strategy, we fear that we will miss the opportunity to maximize the health benefits that could result from these federal investments.

Let your Federal Member of Parliament know that you support the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy by emailing your MP today (Federal MP contact list).

Link to English and French versions of the Letter.

 

CAPE helps take legal action against Minister McKenna over Volkswagen scandal

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, July 2017

CAPE and Environmental Defence, with legal support from Ecojustice, are taking legal action against Federal Environment Minister McKenna, to force the federal government into investigating and punishing Volkswagen for their illegal importation and sales of emissions-cheating diesel vehicles in Canada.

In 2015, approximately 105,000 Volkswagen vehicles were sold in Canada that were capable of emitting up to 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The vehicles which did not comply with Canada’s emission standards were imported into the country with illegal software that would prevent emission testing devices from identifying the problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prosecuted Volkswagen, and the company agreed to pay a $15 billion settlement. In the same period of time, Canada has failed to conclude their investigation and no punitive measures have yet been taken.

“Volkswagen has already admitted that it perpetuated fraud against the public and put human health at risk by selling emissions-cheating vehicles,” said Amir Attaran, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “In taking zero enforcement action and levying no fines as other countries have, the Canadian government is leaving billions of dollars on the table – money that it could use to clean the environment.”

In 2008, the Canadian Medical Association estimated that 21,000 Canadians die every year from heart and lung diseases from polluted air. The Medical Officers of Health in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) have also estimated that traffic-related air pollution is responsible for 700 premature deaths and over 2800 hospital admissions for heart and lung conditions, per year, in the GTHA alone. The pollutant that Volkswagen’s illegal diesel vehicles were emitting –  NOx – is one the major ingredients in smog.  Once in the air, NOx are transformed into ground level ozone and fine particulate matter – the two air pollutants most clearly linked to hospital admissions, premature deaths, and chronic heart and lung diseases.

“Traffic-related air pollution is a huge problem in Canada. It is responsible for thousands of deaths and hospital admissions each year,” said Kim Perrotta, executive director of CAPE. “Volkswagen exceeded the legal standards and they tried to hide it with emissions-cheating devices. The federal government has to take action to demonstrate that companies cannot get away with this type of blatant disregard for Canada’s emission standards and human health.”

The federal government needs to put Canadian health interests first, and punish companies that do not follow emissions regulations. The inefficient investigation underway with Volkswagen sets the standard that Canada’s environment and health standards do not need to be upheld. Instead, a more transparent and proactive approach needs to be taken on by the Ministry of the Environment that will protect Canadians and their health for years to come.

A National Cycling Strategy: A Triple Win for Public Health

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSC, Executive Director, CAPE, June 2017

On June 1, 2017, CAPE participated in the National Bike Summit organized by Canada Bikes where we declared our support for the development of a National Cycling Strategy. Here is why.

A National Cycling Strategy would be a triple win for public health. It would help us to reduce the rate of chronic diseases in Canada. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are escalating at alarming rates across the country. They place a heavy burden on the health care system while also producing pain, disability, and premature deaths for hundreds of thousands of Canadians each year. For example, cardiovascular disease alone costs $12 billion each year in Canada.

Physical activity is one of the most effective “treatments” for chronic diseases. We know that one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week can reduce the risk of premature death by 4 to 9%. And yet, most Canadian do not get the 2.5 hours of physical activity required to maintain good health. Time—or the lack of it—has been identified as the number one barrier to physical activity.

Active modes of transportation—such as cycling—overcome this barrier. They allow people to get the “exercise” they need while travelling to work or school. One study found that people who cycle or walk to work reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease by 11%. But we know that most people, particularly women and children, will not ride to school or work unless cycling routes feel safe. Experience in other jurisdictions has demonstrated that many people will cycle for travel if they have protected bike lanes that look and feel safe.

A National Cycling Strategy would reduce acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution. In 2008, the CMA estimated that air pollution produces 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada. We know these deaths are the tip of the iceberg. They represent a broad array of adverse health impacts including lung cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease. The CMA estimated that air pollution costs Canadians $10 billion per year in direct health care costs and lost time, and that was based on a limited number of health impacts for which the evidence was the strongest.

The transportation sector is one of the most significant sources of air pollution in Canada, particularly in large urban centres and along major traffic corridors. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce air pollution, adverse health impacts, and health care costs by getting residents to use their bikes, instead of their cars, for short trips.

A National Cycling Strategy would also reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called climate change the most significant public health threat of the 21st century. It has estimated that 250,000 people will die prematurely each year by 2030 from climate change unless dramatic action is taken to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Climate change is already claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people each year from heat stress, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. Many of the victims are children and the elderly living in some of the poorest countries in the world. While Canadians will not experience the worst of these impacts, we are not be immune to the impacts of climate change.

Already, in Canada, we are experiencing health impacts from wild fires, floods droughts, heat waves, and severe storms that are increasing in frequency and intensity; from insect-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease that are spreading as the climate warms; and from injuries and deaths resulting from melting permafrost and shifting snow cover. The transportation sector in Canada is responsible for about one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce these emissions by getting people to replace short car trips with bike trips.

A National Cycling Strategy is the holy grail of public health; the public policy the serves many public health goals with one investment. It is an investment that will pay for itself many times over in health care savings alone.

Read more:

CEPA Review: A Chance to Reduce Human Suffering & Health Care Costs

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE June 2017

On May 29th, the newly created Coalition for Action on Toxics held an event on Parliament Hill to draw attention to the changes needed to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to ensure that it protects Canadians from highly toxic substances.

This new coalition—which is housed by Tides Canada, and includes EcoJustice, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, and CAPE—wants decision-makers to understand what changes are needed and how important they are.

“As a palliative care physician, I have spent too much of my career caring for people who are dying prematurely from diseases caused by toxic substances,” offered Dr. Jean Zigby, President of CAPE. “Our environmental regulations must be strengthened to prevent these avoidable deaths and diseases.”

These toxic exposures are costly to society in financial terms as well as human terms. One study published in The Lancet in 2016 estimated that toxic substances that disrupt the endocrine system alone cost the United States $340 billion per year in health care costs and lost wages (Attina et al., 2016). This figure represents 2.33% of the GDP!

CEPA, the backbone of environmental laws federally, has not been revised since 1999. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which has been consulting the public on the revisions needed to CEPA since the fall of 2016, is expected to release its report in the coming weeks.

The coalition has identified a number of key priorities that must be addressed if human health and the environment are to be properly protected from toxics in the environment and in consumer products. We believe that CEPA should be revised to:

  • Reverse the burden of proof for substances for highly toxic substances so that industry must prove that they are safe to use;
  • Require assessment of alternatives and make it mandatory to substitute highly toxic substances with less hazardous substances;
  • Increase protection for populations that are particularly vulnerable to toxic substances such as children;
  • Require risk assessments that consider exposures from different sources and from different substances and products;
  • Create national air quality standards that are health protective, legally binding, and enforceable;
  • Strengthen timelines to ensure that risk management options are assessed and implemented in an expeditious manner;
  • Improve enforcement and provide the funds needed to properly enforce;
  • Extend the right to know to consumers with mandatory labelling of toxic substances;
  • Ensure that the chemicals are re-assessed in response to new scientific evidence, regulatory action in other jurisdictions, or public concerns; and
  • Improve the review and approval process for new substances to make it truly protective of human health and the environment and transparent.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prevent chronic diseases in Canada, reduce health care costs, and protect the environment. Click here and let your Member of Parliament (MP) know that this is an important issue to you.

Reference:

Attina, Teresa M et al. “Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis.” The Lancet Disease and Endocrinology. Vol. 4. No. 12. December 2016.