Scientific evidence “unequivocally” indicates a need for decisive action to protect Canadians from the adverse health effects of traffic-related air pollution, says a new report prepared by doctors calling for a shift to electric vehicles and greener, more walkable cities.
Such a transition will produce “immense health benefits,” say members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), in a report that summarized nearly 1,200 research studies published between 2015 and 2020.
A “striking” amount of evidence links traffic pollution to poor health, Jane McArthur, a co-author of the report and campaign director with CAPE, told the Globe and Mail.
Studies show that the diverse, profound health effects from vehicle emissions extend well beyond the established link to respiratory ailments “to encompass cardiovascular and neurological problems, allergies, and adverse outcomes related to cancer and pregnancy,” reports the Globe.
“In 2021, Health Canada estimated that air pollution contributes to 15,300 premature deaths annually across the country. And for larger Canadian population centres, where emissions from power generation and other industries have been on the decline, traffic has played a growing role as a source of emissions,” the news story states.
While emission cuts are already considered necessary to meet climate targets, the Globe says the report points to additional health benefits “that would derive from lowering vehicle-associated emission of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and fine particles among other substances that can wreak havoc on the body.”
“It’s affecting every single system in the body and affecting the entire population,” CAPE director Samantha Green, a physician with Toronto’s Unity Health network, told the Globe.
According to the report, one-third of Canadians live within 250 metres of a major roadway and therefore face elevated health risks because of traffic-related air pollution. “Much of that risk falls unevenly on lower-income individuals and families who are more likely to live in areas with poorer air quality,” reports the Globe.
The study also makes clear how ailments linked to traffic pollution burden the public health care system, Green said, adding that moving quickly to make communities greener and more walkable would yield “immense health benefits.”
To achieve those gains, the CAPE report recommends creation of low-emission zones within cities—where electric vehicles, bikes, and public transit would be given priority, plus “stronger fuel content and vehicle-type rules.”
Planting trees and shrubs along busy roadways would help protect adjacent neighborhoods from traffic pollution, while better ventilation systems in buildings would protect indoor spaces.
Stressing that traffic-related air pollution is a systemic problem that “just cannot be tackled at the individual level,” Green urged Canadians to get political to protect air quality and their quality of life. “If an individual is concerned about this issue, then they need to demand that their politicians take action.”