Toronto’s public transit unions, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2, reject the findings of the 2019 TTC Subway Air Quality Report put forward by TTC Chief Safety Officer John O’Grady on July 10. The unions’ nearly 12,000 operations and maintenance workers demand immediate action to protect the health and safety of their workers and the public by undertaking further research on fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), creating parameters to reduce exposure to all known pollutants and permitting the use of face masks until a permanent solution is in place.
In 2017, the TTC received significant media attention as a result of a Health Canada study conducted on air quality in the Toronto subway system among other major Canadian city transit systems. The air quality report indicated that Toronto Subways had the worst air quality and highest levels of Particulate Matter 2.5- leaving air quality comparable to a typical day in smoggy Beijing, China.
Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5)
The TTC is aware of the significance of PM 2.5 stating on their own website that, “small particles are inhaled into the lungs. According to the World Health Organization, health effects of inhaling pollutants can aggravate of asthma and irritate eyes, nose and throat. PM 2.5 can be associated with an increased risk of heart and respiratory diseases, lung cancer and reduced lung function.”
Research has also indicated that exposure to particulate air pollution is associated with cardiovascular and respiratory health effects like heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Efforts should be made to reduce exposure to particulates to the lowest levels that are reasonably achievable.
Despite this research indicating that efforts should be made to reduce exposure to particulates to the lowest level, the TTC denies some of their workers the right to wear a simple face mask while working in the subway area. The TTC says only workers in one specific section need to wear a respirator due to exposure to air pollutants. What about the other hundreds of workers who want to reduce their exposure to subway air pollution? Why are they not allowed to wear a simple face mask? A face mask is the easiest way to limit exposure.
TTC Media Release
“Pollutant levels in subway system are within occupational exposure limits: TTC study”
What the TTC is not saying is that occupational exposure limits do not address the cumulative effect of these pollutants, and do not address PM 2.5.
There is also no mention of the exposure to the Public, which was the focus of the 2017 Health Canada study comparing TTC air quality to Beijing, China.
Demanding Immediate Action
ATU Local 113 and CUPE Local 2 call 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. That includes proactively addressing air quality on the public transit system by undertaking research on fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), creating parameters to reduce exposure to all known pollutants and permitting the use of face masks until a permanent solution is in place.