Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto Edition, Vol. 19 No. 7, Friday, February 13, 2015.
With enhanced data about Toronto air quality now available, the city is looking at how to work with residents and businesses alike to mitigate the impacts of pollution.
The city has completed two studies on local air quality— one in South Etobicoke in 2014 and one in South Riverdale and The Beaches in 2012. These studies, which verified air quality modelling with data from Ministry of the Environment monitoring stations, identify the expected concentrations of 30 contaminants during average and worst case 24-hour conditions. The city is now revisiting the original studies with the new data available and undertaking new studies in neighbourhoods across the city.
The data is coming through ChemTRAC, a city by-law that requires institutional, commercial and industrial users of all sizes to publicly report their use and release of 25 priority toxic substances. While only large polluters have to report through the national emissions registry, ChemTRAC fi lls the gap by requiring smaller organizations to similarly report.
“This is something that captures a lot more of those smaller businesses and institutions that have never had to report to other levels of government,” Toronto Environmental Alliance DeTOX campaigner Heather Marshall told NRU. “As a result of ChemTRAC, we as a city know more about toxic chemicals that connect to cancer, asthma and reproductive toxins than any other city in Canada.”
The environment and energy division has just started to receive the data, which comes through a sophisticated modelling program, and is in the process of analysing it.
“The previous data source came from provincial and crossboundary sources of pollution. Now we are able to wrap in the ChemTRAC data, which is the local sources of pollution,” said energy and environment program manager Mark Singh.
The staff analysis will be used to create maps and identify pollutants that may be of concern in the study areas.
“Once we’ve identified which pollutants are of concern we can figure out if there’s a way to work with either the industry, the businesses or the residents to mitigate sources of concern,” said Singh.
Marshall said when citizens become aware of what contaminants they are exposed to, it can inspire people to get involved and start asking what they can do to mitigate the problems.
Live Green Toronto staff is holding a community meeting in South Etobicoke Tuesday to discuss ways residents can get involved in the implementation of local green initiatives. Th e event, called Sprout South Etobicoke, is the first of its kind.
“This event is the first step aft er collecting this data and announcing it,” said Marshall. “It’s the step towards a solution.”
The South Etobicoke event is an example of how the city can reach out to residents to launch a conversation about air quality. At this meeting residents will have the opportunity to bring forward green ideas and help connect them with the necessary resources.
The resulting local initiatives are ways that residents can make their community greener and mitigate the causes of pollution that are outside their control.
“There are some sources of pollution that can be addressed [by residents] and some that can’t,” said Singh. “If you live next to Highway 427, there is very little you can do about that source of pollution, but there are local things that you can do.”
Initiatives that may interest local communities might include creating community gardens and introducing traffi c calming measures to create streets that are better suited for active transportation.
Through the Live Green program three facilitators have been hired to help connect community members to resources such as funding and expertise to make their suggested projects a reality. Each facilitator is assigned to a cluster of wards and has been directed to build a network with local groups and organizations to help community members develop sustainable projects.
As the facilitator program is only funded until the end of 2015, its focus is on assisting existing community projects, rather than initiating them. Staff has the data for the next six areas of the city that are being studied and is starting the analysis.
The studies are expected to be completed by the end of the year and three more are scheduled for 2016.
Meanwhile, Toronto Environmental Alliance is preparing to launch a new air monitoring project called INHALE—the Initiative for Healthy Air and Local Economies. This project will offer residents air monitoring equipment so that they can start collecting data at the local level. They will be asking participants to attach the monitors to their bikes or strollers so that data will be collected at different locations around the city, not just at the air monitoring stations.
“We think getting air monitoring into the hands of local community members and getting that local level data and exploring the level of data they have questions about is important,” said Marshall. One of the areas of focus when the project launches later this month is South Etobicoke so that the hard air monitoring data can be compared to the modelling data.