City must act on air pollution in TTC subway tunnels, report says

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City must act on air pollution in TTC subway tunnels, report says


The city needs to take steps to improve air quality in its subway tunnels, says a new report from Toronto Public Health released Monday morning.

Research indicates that levels of fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) in the tunnels “warrant mitigation,” the report says.

Researchers have linked PM2.5 to the metallic rail dust that is generated when a train’s wheels rub against the tracks.

In an online statement, the City of Toronto wrote that although “the report shows that taking the subway benefits the overall health of all Toronto residents,” it added “that these benefits would be further enhanced by the implementation of short-term and long-term measures to improve subway air quality.”

Among the steps the report recommends the city take include training employees on the subject, continuing to monitor subway air quality and reviewing TTC operations to identify where exposure to PM2.5 could be decreased.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, will present the report on Jan. 13 at a meeting of city council’s board of health.

The report comes months after the TTC’s own report, released July 10, showed that pollutant levels in the subway system are within exposure limits. At the time, unions representing thousands of transit workers called on the agency to allow employees to use face masks and to do more research on the matter.

The TTC acknowledged the new city report, and said that it “remains fully committed to continuing our world-leading efforts in subway air quality improvement by monitoring the effectiveness of our actions to date and ensuring mitigation is factored in to all aspects of our subway operations and procurement,” spokesperson Stuart Green said.

Green added that the TTC is “well below provincially mandated occupational health regulations . . . Testing shows concentrations of certain particulates in the subway air to be up to 10,000 times lower in 2018 than they were when previously tested in 1995.”

Mayor John Tory said he “welcomed this new study so we could confirm that we are on the right track and have current information to help guide future work.”

“I am committed to making sure the TTC continues this work in the existing system and in all future subway projects,” Tory said in a statement.

TTC chair and Coun. Jaye Robinson reassured Torontonians “that the TTC is a safe and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation” and noted that the transit agency is taking action on the issue.

TTC CEO Rick Leary also confirmed that they concur with the report’s recommendations and “will also exchange information and discuss best practices with other large transit systems like New York and London where similar challenges are faced.”

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Ilya Bañares is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @ilyaoverseas

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