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.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, October 20, 2017
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.
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.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, CAPE Executive Director, June 2017
A MAJOR PUBLIC HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGE FOR MONTRÉAL: THE RETURN OF THE ‘DALLE-PARC’ IN THE TURCOT INTERCHANGE
This spring, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment is partnering with the Conseil Régional de l’Environnement de Montréal and several environmental groups in a major campaign to promote active transportation: the Return of the Turcot Dalle-Parc project.
The Turcot Interchange, a major highway interchange in southwest Montreal, is currently under renovation. This is a major infrastructure project—costing more than $4 billion—which originally included a large, green overpass connecting two zones of Montreal in the plans. This overpass, the “Dalle-Parc”, is a project that connects the upper part of the city (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount) and the lower part (Verdun–Pointe-Saint-Charles). This slab that passes over the highway and the railway is a structure that can allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross this area in a safe way. It is a great project that greatly benefitspedestrians and cyclists, and is also connected to a rail shuttle service to the Montreal airport in Dorval.
This Dalle-Parc project not only greatly favours active transportation, but it will give people in many neighbourhoods easier and safer access to hospitals and other employment and development centers. If it is not implemented, cyclists will have to make a 10km detour to traverse a distance of barely 1km. The Dalle-Parc project will also significantly reduce pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by the city.
In the initial project to renovate the Turcot Interchange in 2010, this Dalle-Parc was the only truly interesting environmental aspect of this huge construction site. The Dalle-Parc therefore had the support of all the environmental groups and citizens of the city. However, in the latest version from the Quebec Ministry of Transport (MTQ) in 2015, the Dalle-Parc was simply gone. No one at the MTQ seems to be able to explain this decision. It is important to note that the cost of the Dalle-Parc is estimated at $40 million, or 1-2% of the total cost of refurbishing of the interchange.
We are asking the MTQ for the reinstatement of the Dalle-Parc. The current campaign has several components: meeting with municipal, provincial and federal politicians; social, festive, cultural, and sporting events; meeting with local groups; meeting with the media; etc.
This campaign will certainly last several months. But it will last as long as it takes. We are absolutely determined to win this battle for the health of the population… and the planet.
UN ENJEU MAJEUR DE SANTÉ PUBLIQUE ET D’ENVIRONNEMENT POUR MONTRÉAL : LE RETOUR DE LA ‘DALLE-PARC’ DANS L’ÉCHANGEUR TURCOT
Ce printemps, l’Association Canadienne des Médecins pour l’Environnement s’associe au Conseil Régional de l’Environnement de Montréal et à plusieurs groupes environnementaux dans une importante campagne de promotion du transport actif. Il s’agit du projet Retour de la Dalle-Parc Turcot.
Le grand échangeur routier du sud-ouest de Montréal, l’échangeur Turcot est actuellement en réfection. Il s’agit d’un projet majeur de plus de 4 milliards de dollars, dans lequel une grande plate forme verte entre 2 zones de Montréal était initialement prévue dans les plans. Cette plate forme, la Dalle-Parc est un projet qui permet de relier la partie haute de la ville : Notre Dame de Grâce-Westmount et la partie basse : Verdun-Pointe St-Charles. Cette dalle qui passe au dessus de l’autoroute et de la voie ferrée est un ouvrage qui peut permettre aux piétons et cyclistes de traverser cette zone de façon sécuritaire. Il s’agit d’un beau projet qui favorise grandement les piétons et cyclistes, et qui est, de plus, en lien avec une navette ferroviaire dans l’axe Montréal-Aéroport de Dorval.
Ce projet de Dalle-Parc permet non seulement de favoriser grandement le transport actif, mais grâce à lui, les citoyens et citoyennes de plusieurs quartiers ont plus facilement accès aux centres hospitaliers et autres pôles d’emplois et de développement, et ce, de façon très sécuritaire. S’il n’est pas réalisé, les cyclistes auront à faire un grand détour de 10 Km pour parcourir une distance d’à peine 1Km. Le projet de la Dalle-Parc permet en outre de diminuer de façon substantielle la pollution et les Gaz à Effet de Serre émis par la ville.
Dans le projet initial de réfection de l’échangeur Turcot en 2010, cette Dalle-Parc était le seul aspect véritablement intéressant au niveau environnemental de ce gigantesque chantier. La Dalle-Parc avait donc le soutien de tous les groupes environnementaux et des citoyens et citoyennes de la ville. Or dans la dernière version du Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) en 2015, la Dalle-Parc était tout simplement disparue. Personne au MTQ ne semble pouvoir expliquer cette décision. Il est important de souligner que le coût de la Dalle-Parc est estimé à 40 millions de dollars, soit 1-2% du budget total de réfection de l’échangeur.
Nous demandons dont au MTQ la réinsertion de la Dalle-Parc. La campagne actuelle a plusieurs volets : rencontre avec les politiciens municipaux, provinciaux et fédéraux; rencontre avec les groupes locaux, événements sociaux, festifs, sportifs, culturels, rencontre avec les médias, etc…
Cette campagne durera certainement plusieurs mois. Mais elle durera le temps qu’il faudra. Nous sommes absolument déterminés à gagner cette bataille. Il en va de la santé de la population…et de la planète.
Kindzierski maintains that coal plants are not a major contributor of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the air pollutant that has been most clearly and consistently linked to chronic heart and lung diseases as well as acute health impacts. Kindzierski refers readers to several of his own studies, one of which contains a graph (posted above) that identifies coal combustion (the mustard yellow bar) as a small contributor of ultra fine particles in Alberta’s air (Md. Anul Bari et al., 2015). He fails to explain however, that coal plants are one the most significant sources of sulphur dioxide (SO2), the gaseous air pollutant that is transformed in the air into secondary sulphate (the large brown bar).
Secondary sulphate, as illustrated by the author’s own graph, is the most significant source of ultra fine particles, the most worrisome portion of PM2.5. In 2014, coal-fired power plants were responsible for 40% of the SO2 emitted in all of Alberta and 60% of the SO2 emitted in the Edmonton Region (Pembina 2016a). In other words, coal plants were the largest source of SO2 that is transformed into the secondary sulphates that contribute most significantly to air levels of ultra fine particles and PM2.5 in Alberta.
Air Pollution and Human Health
Kindzierski then goes on to challenge the view that air pollutants other than PM2.5 and ground level ozone are harmful to human health, and even calls into question the health evidence associated with PM2.5. Thousands of studies have been directed at the acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution over several decades. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reassessed the health literature on air pollution and found, among many other things, stronger evidence that short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of mortality and morbidity particularly for cardiovascular effects; stronger evidence that short-term exposures to ozone can have negative effects on a range of pulmonary and vascular health-relevant end-points; new evidence that short- and long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can increase the risk of morbidity and mortality, mainly for respiratory outcomes; and additional evidence that exposure to SO2 may contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and morbidity and asthma symptoms in children (WHO, 2013). These findings are well known and well accepted by public health, environmental, and medical professionals around the world.
Coal Plants, Air Pollution and Human Health
In 2012, using the Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool (AQBAT) developed by Health Canada, Environment Canada estimated that improved air quality resulting from the current coal regulations would prevent approximately 994 premature deaths and 860 hospital admissions or emergency room visits between 2015 and 2035 (Environment Canada, 2013). These avoided health outcomes were valued at $4.9 billion. In 2016, the Pembina Institute extrapolated these results to determine the additional health benefits associated with a 2030 coal plant phase-out in Canada. It found that a 2030 phase-out date would nearly double the health benefits associated with the existing coal regulations, preventing an additional 1,008 premature deaths and 871 hospital admissions or emergency room visits between 2015 and 2035. These additional health benefits were valued at nearly $5 billion (Pembina 2016b).
It is clear to us: a 2030 Canada-wide phase-out of coal-fired power plants is a public policy that will produce many direct public health benefits for Canadian while simultaneously helping us to meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, March 7, 2017
On January 17, 2017, industry think-tank the Fraser Institute released a new report, Did the Coal Phase-out Reduce Ontario Air Pollution? which suggests that coal plants across Canada should not be phased out based on its assertion that Ontario’s phase-out did not significantly reduce air pollution (Fraser Institute, 2017). This report includes a number of statements about pollution, health care benefits, and coal plants that are incorrect or misleading.
The Fraser report focuses on the air pollution benefits of the Ontario coal plant phase-out while ignoring the many co-benefits associated with this action. In 2002, the five coal-fired power plants in Ontario were responsible for
nearly one quarter (23%) of the sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions and one seventh (14%) of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in Ontario that contributed to air pollution and acid rain,
nearly one quarter (23%) of the airborne mercury emissions which contributed to the contamination of fish with a persistent toxic that is harmful to the brains of humans, and
one fifth (20%) of Ontario’s greenhouse gases emissions that were contributing to climate change (OPHA, 2002).
Over the last 20 years, the public health sector, the Ontario Medical Association, environmental organizations, cottagers’ associations, and labour organizations have been outspoken advocates for the phase-out of coal plants in Ontario. All of these groups shared the common view that many health and environmental benefits could be gained simultaneously by closing Ontario’s coal plants.
While there were technologies that could be applied to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from these plants, there was no technology at that time that could eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases. Given the age of Ontario’s coal plants, the availability of combined cycle natural gas plants, the promise of energy efficiency, and renewable technologies, it made more sense economically to accelerate the closure of coal plants than to re-invest in them.
The Fraser report and press release suggest that coal plants are not a major contributor of fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—the air pollutant that has been mostly clearly linked to chronic health impacts such as heart disease and lung cancer, and one of two air pollutants responsible for most of the smog alerts that used to be common in Ontario. This is simply not true.
Coal plants emit significant quantities of SO2 and substantial quantities of NOx. Both are gaseous air pollutants that can harm human health directly. When they enter the atmosphere, they can be transformed into sulphates and nitrates—acid particles that contribute to air levels of PM2.5. In fact, this secondary PM2.5 is the major culprit behind high levels of PM2.5 measured in many airsheds and is often more hazardous for human health than other forms of PM2.5 (RIAS, 2011). This PM2.5 does not, however, show up in emission inventories for PM2.5.
The Fraser Institute suggests that Ontario’s coal phase-out had little impact on emissions and air quality. This is misleading. Between 2003 and 2012, SO2 emissions from coal plants were reduced by about 140,000 tonnes (see Figure 1). During that same period, annual air levels of SO2 across Ontario declined by nearly 50% (see Figure 2) and annual air levels of PM2.5 declined by about 25% (see Figure 3) (OMOECC, 2014). While the improvements in air levels of SO2 and PM2.5 cannot be attributed solely to the closure of coal plants, their closure was an important contributor to reductions in air levels.
Air quality is impacted by multiple sources of pollution. The actions to reduce air pollution are intentionally broad-based because the improvements are cumulative. Coal plants are an efficient target for emission reductions because they are stationary sources that emit large volumes of air pollutants. They are also a significant source of air toxics such as mercury and greenhouse gases.
Air pollution is also a transboundary issue. Emissions of SO2 and NOx from coal plants in the U.S. have a significant impact on Ontario’s air quality, while emissions from Ontario’s coal plants have a substantial impact on air quality in Quebec, Vermont and New York (Yap et al., 2005). In recognition of this reality, Canada and the United States committed in 1991 to take action on both sides of the border with the Canada-US Air Quality Agreement. This agreement has proven very successful. Emissions and air quality on both sides of the border have improved because of cooperation between the two countries (Canada-US, 2014).
In 2005, Ontario estimated the contribution of coal plants to air pollution across Ontario and the adverse health impacts associated with that contribution. Because coal plants release air pollutants so high in the air, the pollutants are dispersed over long distances. The impact, therefore, on any one airshed is relatively small, but the impact overall on human health can be significant because so many people can be affected. Using methodologies that were well-accepted in other jurisdictions, Ontario estimated that air pollution from its coal plants were responsible for over 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1000 emergency room visits, each year, in Ontario. These health impacts were valued at $3 billion per year (OMOE, 2005).
The Fraser report suggests that the $3 billion in health benefits estimated cannot be accurate because it represents too great a percentage of Ontario’s health care budget. This statement reflects a misunderstanding about the health benefits estimated in 2005. The $3 billion per year in health benefits reflect the value of the many lives that are shortened by air pollution, as well as health care costs. They do not reflect health care costs alone. The 2005 report is clear about this point.
An independent assessment conducted by Toronto Public Health in 2014 suggests that improvements in Ontario’s air quality have translated into significant health benefits for Ontario residents. Toronto Public Health found that improvements in Toronto’s air quality from 2000 to 2011 have reduced air pollution-related premature deaths by 23% (from 1,700 to 1,300 per year) and hospital admissions by 41% (from 6,000 to 3,550 per year) in Toronto alone. It attributes the improvements in air quality to a variety of policies implemented by different levels of government including the phase-out of coal plants by Ontario (TPH, 2014).
With the evidence of catastrophic climate change mounting daily, the need to modernize Canada’s electricity sector has never been more clear. With the costs of renewable technologies dropping, the opportunity to transform our economy has never been greater. CAPE stands by its position. We believe that the phase-out of coal plants in Alberta and across Canada is an economically prudent decision that will improve the health of Canadians while taking the steps needed to address climate change.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE
Canada-US, 2014. Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement Progress
Fraser Institute. (2017). Did the Coal Phase-out Reduce Ontario Air Pollution? Prepared by Ross McKitrick and Elmira Aliakbari.
Ontario Ministry of Energy (OMOE). 2005. Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation. Prepared by DSS Management Consultants Inc. RWDI Air Inc. April, 2005
Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (OMOECC). 2014. Air Quality in Ontario 2013 Report.
Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA). 2002. Beyond Coal: Power, Public Health and the Environment
Regulatory Impact Assessment Study (RIAS). 2011. Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-Fired Generation of Electricity Regulations.
Toronto Public Health (TPH). 2014. Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness Update. Technical Report.
World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP Project.
Yap, David, Neville Reid, Gary De Brou, and Robert Bloxam. 2005. Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario 2005. Queen’s Printer.