VANCOUVER — Researchers from the University of Toronto are calling for action to curtail cancer-causing pollution from older or poorly maintained diesel transport trucks in the wake of a two-year study of roadside pollution in Vancouver and the Toronto area.
Nearly one third of Canadians live within 250 metres of a major road where pollution from traffic may be putting their health at-risk, according to a summary report of the study’s findings, released Wednesday.
Pollution from older, badly maintained diesel trucks — or trucks whose emissions control systems have been tampered with — is a particular concern, said Greg Evans, a professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto.
“There’s some bad offenders out there and getting them off the road is a real opportunity to improve the air quality beside these major roads,” he said.
Evans and his team undertook this research in collaboration with the federal and Ontario governments and Metro Vancouver, a federation of Vancouver-area municipalities.
Between 2015 and 2017, the researchers measured traffic-related pollution at six sites.
In Vancouver, a monitoring station was established along Clark Drive, a major trucking route that in many areas is lined by residential neighbourhoods. Monitoring sites were also established beside Highway 401 outside of Toronto and along College Street in the city’s downtown.
Background sites were set up near all three monitoring stations to measure pollution levels away from traffic for comparison.
Canada has no standard for public exposure to soot, which is often used as a proxy to measure for diesel exhaust.
But the concentration of soot detected at the monitoring sites in Vancouver and near Highway 401 points to concerning levels of diesel pollution.
And, it exceeds the standard that has been proposed by the Netherlands to limit workers’ exposure to diesel fumes.
Typically the standards meant to protect the public should be more stringent, to account for more vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly, Evans said.
Both the Vancouver and Toronto monitoring sites failed to meet Canadian incoming standards for nitrogen dioxide. According to Health Canada, people exposed to low levels of nitrogen dioxide over a long period may be more likely to develop problems such as coughing and wheezing.
Given the dangers of diesel pollution, the report recommends that Canada take further steps to reduce public exposure.
Older trucks should either be repaired, retrofitted, taken off the road entirely, or restricted from driving in neighbourhoods or nears schools and daycares, the researchers suggest in the summary report of their findings.
And, governments should develop a standard and process for certifying low-emission diesel vehicles that could then be allowed to operate in areas based on the lower level of pollution they produce, it says.
While diesel transport trucks are a major offender when it comes to traffic pollution, particles from tires, brakes, and the road surface itself, are also on the rise.
That “disturbing trend” has resulted in increased concentrations of metal dust near roadways, according to the study, and the likely culprit here is the increasing number of pickup trucks and SUVs on the road.
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Traffic pollution is a problem that will require multiple levels of government and different agencies to tackle, said Roger Quan, Metro Vancouver’s director of air quality and climate change.
Several years ago, Metro Vancouver and a number of partners investigated ways to reduce exposure to transportation pollutions.
This study “really does help provide a rational for implementing a program to deal with traffic related air pollutants,” said Quan.