Air quality on the way to work


Credit: By Ibagli (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimeida Commons

This week I was contacted by CBC news to comment on a recently released study by researchers at the University of Toronto. The study showed elevated levels of diesel gases and particulates inside the GO Transit diesel train cars in the Greater Toronto Area.  

The findings concluded that the first car behind the diesel engine was the most impacted.  I did not find this surprising.  I was quoted as saying: “The closer to the engine, the higher the levels…you see that in buses, you see that in cars. I was explaining that the studies of air quality inside all moving vehicles demonstrate accumulation of outdoor exhaust, including buses and cars, because of the nature of air movement and ventilation.  Streetcars, which depend on electricity, have the least. Air pollution exposure outdoors is actually lower than the exposure in moving vehicles.   

When you are biking, walking briskly or running on major thoroughfares, particularly during rush hour, your air pollution exposure is even higher than inside vehicles.  This is simply because when you are exercising you are breathing more deeply. So run or bike on residential roads and avoid the bicycle lanes built on main traffic thoroughfares.

We need to become more aware and reduce our exposures because air pollution has been strongly linked to increased morbidity and mortality from multiple chronic diseases, as well as adverse pregnancy outcomes.This latest study just speaks to the fact that we have multiple and relentless exposures to air pollution. It contaminates our indoor air, whether at home, the workplace or in transit.

Kudos to Metrolinx, the agency which manages Toronto’s GO Transit, because it has already installed new filters in the ventilation systems of some train cars and intends to do so to the entire fleet. Eventually they will be switching much of its train network from diesel to electric, although it won’t be completed until 2024. But still, it’s just a start.

Meanwhile, cities need to find ways to reduce traffic congestion. We need to  find alternative sources for energy and slowly wean off the poison of fossil fuels.

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