Pollution: We Can’t Breathe A Sigh of Relief Yet, Toronto

 

Ameer Shash | Contributor

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay


Do you smell that?

No, I am not referring to the smell of hot-off-the-press newsprint, but the pungent smell of retribution. We inadvertently fund petro-capitalism, as well as patronize other businesses to buy and use things that have a boomerang effect. The gas you paid at the pump for your car; it comes back to the earth’s atmosphere while the profit made from that purchase goes back into petroleum bosses’ wallets. People, at the same time, do not sufficiently speak against industries’ practices, which are harming the environment.

Addressing the concern around air pollution is an urgent matter because residents’ time outside will be limited, and being cooped up inside as a result is conducive to one’s health without fresh air. As we’re on the topic of air pollution, let’s define what a pollutant is. A pollutant can be defined as a substance that renders a natural space, such as air quality, unsafe to be in or use.

Pollutants in this piece concern the emissions of carbon dioxide, large quantities of nitrogen among other harmful substances entering the atmosphere.

Pollution in Toronto is attributed to our everyday oblivious actions, which are traced back to the roads, transit infrastructure, and political agenda. These pollutant-emitting goods and facilities raise many questions about our future: will the next generation become sustainable in time?

In our present day, there are a number of identifiable problems contributing to the increase of pollution in Toronto. Namely, the most critical contributors: Uber/Transit/Vehicular traffic; industrial applications, conflict and resolution in mitigating the damage already sustained.

Our use of vehicles have excessively contributed to the effects of the city’s air pollution. Toronto was introduced to an invasive species on the city’s roadways in early 2014. This species is classified as a transportation ride-hailing service, branded as Uber. Uber is a ridesharing corporation adorned by many commuters in the city for its easy-to-use and quick service.

Aside from concerns of riders’ safety, Uber should really stand for, “Unregulated Business Evading the Rules” because a number of environmental protection by-laws enacted by the City of Toronto that apply for taxicabs are not applicable to Uber.

Some of these by-laws in place that are meant to protect our air include requiring taxi drivers to record their odometer readings and distance driven, as well as other documentation pertaining to the vehicle’s operation interval.Both are documented and retained by the governing agency behind taxicabs’ operations: the Municipal Licensing and Standards division of the City of Toronto. These limitations on how often a driver keeps their car’s engine on ensures they limit emissions by the cab fleet.

UberX, however, is not regulated by the city, meaning the City of Toronto can neither gather information nor monitor where each privately-operated Uber vehicle is operating, what time they’re operating and the number of Uber vehicles operating at any given time. This, in turn, means the city cannot compile data to assess what impact Uber has on congestion, or how much pollutants Uber’s fleet is emitting.

Let’s set aside the Uber woes, and focus on enforcement as a preventative measure — something the city has failed to do. The City of Toronto enacted a by-law in 2010, making it clear that “No person shall cause or permit a vehicle or boat to idle for more than one minute in a sixty-minute period.” Given the ratio of passenger vehicles to law enforcement vehicles, enforcing this law is not a realistic approach to decreasing the impact of pollution. Higher-level government branches, like Transport Canada, can step up to alleviate this problem.

Avoiding speaking up against petro-capitalism also contributes to air pollution. In the industrial application to this topic, we can look at the Shell Keele Terminal, which is located proximal to York. The terminal stores and refines oil products; it could have been placed anywhere in Ontario and undoubtedly, a healthy city is contingent on the laws and activity.

A mere kilometer radius of the petroleum facility sits residential high-rises and office towers, which raises the question of why they are conducting their operations so close to a residential space. It’s without question that respiratory effects will present themselves after prolonged exposure to toxic fumes from petroleum products lingering in the air. Not only are residents’ health at risk, but also their safety.

In August 2008, a propane explosion, dubbed the ‘Toronto Propane Explosion,’ rocked North York with a multitude of explosions near Keele Street and Wilson Avenue. This resulted in the deaths of two individuals, millions of dollars in legal fees, and the closure of Sunrise Propane. The City of Toronto, as well as the Province of Ontario, had to pay for restorations in response to this. The infuriating aspect is that the cause of the explosion was likely due to non-compliance with the law.

Sunrise Propane was known for truck-to-truck content transferring, and though it is faster than conventional methods, the practice is illegal in Ontario. It intrigued me to ask why such facilities would be built in the spot that it is in the first place. Hospital admissions during summer months in the late 1980s in Toronto from haze made up for 24 per cent of admissions to hospitals. Pollution can have repercussions such as straining Ontario’s healthcare system and wait times as a large percentage of people admitted for respiratory problems would not have to be admitted if pollution levels decreased.

Toronto has a lot of improvements to make when it comes to alleviating environmental problems. Let’s take Vancouver for example. The World Health Organization recognizes Vancouver for having some of the world’s cleanest air. This can be attributed to strategic urban planning by placing pollution-causing facilities in zones that do not affect nature or humans, as well as implementing programs to educate residents on recycling practices.

Comparatively in Toronto, the TTC subway system was recorded to have pollutant concentrations five times that of the Vancouver’s SkyTrain. Promoting public transit use in any city including Toronto, though, isn’t the best, as the friction between steel tracks and wheels is the cause of elevated levels of particulate matter, known as PM2.5.

As a call to action, Transport Canada (the branch of government overseeing automotive affairs) should legislate a new law to make it mandatory for every vehicle sold in Canada to be equipped with start-stop technology. The technology will automatically turn a vehicle’s engine off immediately upon sitting idle at a stop light, for instance. This will slow down the amount of nitrous pollutants that get into the air, as this reduces the amount of unnecessary time that a car sits idle.

Governments at provincial and municipal levels have taken considerable measures to address concerns around air pollution/air quality. Premier Doug Ford discontinued mandatory emission testing for passenger vehicles and created a system that focuses on heavy enforcement on heavy-duty trucks instead. The only problem, however, is that there are many older vehicles still on the road today that emit more pollutants in parts-per-million than cars built today.

This is not only limited to emissions, however. Cars are sometimes subject to much-needed repairs that are not performed, like oil and fluid leaks, which can either find their way into the environment by dripping into the ground, or the fumes from the fluids rising into the air.

If you have ever bought a new car which has that new car smell, that is another environmental concern known as off-gassing. The TTC ordered a fleet of 30 all-electric buses manufactured by U.S-based Proterra recently, which was jointly funded federally and provincially. Mayor John Tory acknowledged the current fleet’s harm to its air pollution, saying the current buses degrade the environment by using diesel fuel.

In the foreseeable future, we need to see a change. Toronto should be making considerable progress towards the implementation of strategies that could one day make Toronto a healthier city to breathe a sigh of relief.

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