Air Pollution Burden of Illness – Toronto Public Health

Executive Summary
This report summarizes new work completed by Toronto Public Health, with
assistance from the Toronto Environment Office, to assess the health impacts
of air pollution from traffic in Toronto. The study has two major
components: a comprehensive review of published scientific studies on the
health effects of vehicle pollution; and, a quantitative assessment of the
burden of illness and economic costs from traffic pollution in Toronto. This
report also examines air pollution and traffic trends in Toronto, and provides
an overview of initiatives underway or planned by the City to further combat
vehicle-related air pollution.
Burden of illness studies provide a reliable and cost-effective mechanism by
which local health authorities can estimate the magnitude of adverse health
impacts from air pollution. In 2004, Toronto Public Health (TPH) estimated
that air pollution (from all sources) is responsible for about 1,700 premature
deaths and 6,000 hospitalizations each year in Toronto. The study indicated
that these deaths would not have occurred when they did without chronic
exposure to air pollution at the levels experienced in Toronto.
Since that time, Health Canada has developed a new computer-based tool,
called the Air Quality Benefits Tool (AQBAT) which can be used to calculate
burden of illness estimates. TPH staff used this tool in the current study to
determine the burden of illness and economic impact from traffic-related air
Toronto Public Health collaborated with air modelling specialists at the
Toronto Environment Office to determine the specific contribution of trafficrelated
pollutants to overall pollution levels. Data on traffic counts and flow,
vehicle classification and vehicle emission factors were analysed by Toronto
Environment Office and Transportation Services for input into a
sophisticated air quality model. The air model takes into account the
dispersion, transport and transformation of compounds emitted from motor
vehicles. Other major sources of air pollution in Toronto are space heating,
commercial and industrial sources, power generation and transboundary
The current study determined that traffic gives rise to about 440 premature
deaths and 1,700 hospitalizations per year in Toronto. While the majority of
hospitalizations involve the elderly, traffic-related pollution also has
significant adverse effects on children. Children experience more than
1,200 acute bronchitis episodes per year as a result of air pollution
from traffic. Children are also likely to experience the majority of asthma
symptom days (about 68,000), given that asthma prevalence and asthma
hospitalization rates are about twice as high in children as adults.
This study shows that traffic-related pollution affects a very large number of
people. Impacts such as the 200,000 restricted activity days per year due to
ii Air Pollution Illnesses from Traffic
days spent in bed or days when people cut back on usual activities are
disruptive, affect quality of life and pose preventable health risk.
This study estimates that mortality-related costs associated with traffic
pollution in Toronto are about $2.2 billion. A 30% reduction in vehicle
emissions in Toronto is projected to save 189 lives and result in 900 million
dollars in health benefits. This means that the predicted improvements in
health status would warrant major investments in emission reduction
programs. The emission reduction scenarios modelled in this study are
realistic and achievable, based on a review by the Victoria Transport Policy
Institute of policy options and programs in place in other jurisdictions. Taken
together, implementation of comprehensive, integrated policies and programs
are expected to reduce total vehicle travel by 30 to 50% in a given
community, compared with current planning and pricing practices.
Given there is a finite amount of public space in the city for all modes of
transportation, there is a need to reassess how road space can be used more
effectively to enable the shift to more sustainable transportation modes. More
road space needs to be allocated towards development of expanded
infrastructure for walking, cycling and on-road public transit (such as
dedicated bus and streetcar lanes) so as to accelerate the modal shift from
motor vehicles to sustainable transportation modes that give more priority to
pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.
Expanding and improving the infrastructure for sustainable transportation
modes will enable more people to make the switch from vehicle dependency
to other travel modes. This will also benefit motorists as it would reduce
traffic congestion, commuting times and stress for those for whom driving is
a necessity. Creating expanded infrastructure for sustainable transportation
modes through reductions in road capacity for single occupancy vehicle use
will require a new way of thinking about travelling within Toronto and
beyond. To be successful, it will require increased public awareness and
acceptance of sharing the road in more egalitarian ways, as well
implementation of progressive policies and programs by City Council.
This study provides a compelling rationale for investing in City Council’s
plan to combat smog and climate change, and for vigorously pursuing
implementation of sustainable transportation policies and programs in
Toronto. Fostering and enabling the expansion and use of public transit and
active modes of transportation, such as walking and cycling, are of particular
benefit to the public’s health and safety.



1 Comment

  1. […] warming. It wasn’t just the simple fact that, according to Toronto Public Health authority air pollution is causing thousands of premature deaths every single year in the City of Toronto alone. It wasn’t only the fact that 17,000 Ontario […]

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