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Charges Against TTC for Violating Environmental Protections Act: ATU Local 113 and CUPE Local 2 Join Forces to Improve Air Quality in TTC Subway System

Today, charges were announced against the Toronto Transit Commission (“TTC”) and Rick Leary, Chief Executive Officer in the Ontario Court of Justice. The charges allege the defendants have allowed the discharge of contaminants in Toronto’s subway system in violation of the province’s Environmental Protection Act.

The informant in the proceeding, Thomas Donnelly, is a retired TTC worker and member of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. Donnelly initiated the private legal prosecution after experiencing adverse health effects allegedly related to exposure from contaminants, including PM 2.5, in the subway system.

Tests by Health Canada and the TTC have shown levels of PM 2.5 contamination in Toronto’s subway almost three times greater than Montreal’s and five times greater than Vancouver’s. Health Canada states “there is no recognized threshold … (i.e. that there are no ‘safe’ levels of PM 2.5) regardless of where exposure occurs i.e. indoors or outdoors, and there is evidence that adverse health effects occur at current levels of exposure.”

In July 2019, the TTC released a Final Report on Subway Air Quality, stating it continues to meet Occupational Health & Safety Act standards and that Health Canada has indicated, concerning public health, that there are no directly comparable standards for PM 2.5 levels in the subway. The expert evidence filed in the prosecution challenges many of these findings, as well as Toronto Public Health’s recent claim that the air is safe.

The lack of standards and regulations is a major concern. The prosecution will seek, amongst other things, standards for PM 2.5 in the subway system.  The prosecution will also seek more controls over contamination in the system, including allowing employees to wear masks while working, improved ventilation and better maintenance of the system.

Carlos Santos, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 issued the following statement with members about the issue:

“The safety of our members is our top priority. Since 2017, ATU Local 113 and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2 have been calling on the TTC to work with its public transit workers to make real change to subway air quality, instead of continuing to ignore growing concerns. In August 2019, we rejected the findings of the 2019 TTC Subway Air Quality Report and demanded immediate action to reduce exposure to all known pollutants.

I want to reaffirm my commitment to you and your safety. At its core, this case is about addressing the lack of standards and regulations related to air born contaminants. We hope that this legal proceeding helps to bring about the needed change that we have identified. In the interim, we will be advocating to the TTC to implement near-term measures to address the issue.”