Smog may already be making it difficult for some residents of the East York area to enjoy cycling, jogging, or even just walking. But if citizens don’t act to reverse the trend, experts say health problems could worsen.
For starters, premature deaths are predicted to rise. A 2006 report on smog from the Ontario Medical Association predicted that premature death among people aged 18 to 65 could increase by 16 per cent in the next 20 years because of smog. For people over 65, premature deaths could increase by a staggering 81 per cent, from the current 1,220 deaths per year to 2,210.
“We have the worst air pollutants in southern Ontario,” says Charles Battershill, president of the Green Party’s provincial riding organization in Toronto-Danforth. He blames car pollutants that are blown into East York from the Don Valley Parkway.
A toxic emission map created by the Toronto Environmental Alliance shows the riding as one of the most polluted in the city — subject to somewhere between 250 and 1,100 tonnes of toxic chemicals per year that not only worsen existing respiratory problems, but also create them.
Battershill, also a professor of social science at York University, moved to East York five and a half years ago. He says that by 2005, he had developed asthma as a result of the air quality, and that not enough is being done to reverse the effects of smog.
“The city is not doing enough,” Battershill says. “It should be looking at building more hybrids than roads. We have to subsidize more green transportation.”
Dr. Franz Hartmann, the co-executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, agrees that the city could do more, but he acknowledges that Toronto is at least making some effort to reduce pollutants. Just by introducing the proposed rapid transit system, he says, more people living on the city’s outskirts will be able to leave their polluting cars in their driveways.
“The key thing people can do is keep cars at home,” Hartmann says. “There is no doubt that this would be good for the environment, and for our health.”
But the fate of people’s health lies in their votes, according to Battershill. He suggests that voters concerned about pollutants should become more aware of the businesses that a political party supports.
“If people really want change, they have to look at the politics,” says Battershill. “They have to be more aware of reports and statistics that prove how much energy can be saved, and not produced.”
Change can also take place by conserving more energy at home, Hartmann adds.
“Hang your laundry out instead of using the dryer, or turn off the lights when you’re not using them, because in Toronto, much of the electricity comes from the coal-fired stations which produce toxic pollutants,” he says.