Breathe much? How about a cup of TEA? TO's Environmental Alliance

Dennis Hanagan
September 2016
The Bulletin

After a full days work, CityPlace resident Diana Kouril heads out on her bike to measure something that can’t be seen—air quality. Sometimes she rides as far away as Moss Park and Roncesvalles Village to take readings.

Kouril is a volunteer with a project called Inhale run by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA). It’s centred around the Downtown core between Bathurst and the Don River and south to the Toronto Islands. Its purpose is to let volunteers learn for themselves the air quality in their neighborhoods.

“We wanted to make air pollution more visible to people who live in communities where they may already know or have a sense that the air quality is not as great as it should be,” says TEA spokesperson Jolene Cushman, campaign engagement coordinator.

Kouril has a masters degree in sustainable studies; it seemed a natural next step to join Inhale. “I felt this need to be part of an organization that was supporting sustainability and environmental quality on a local level,” says Kouril.

“I come with the belief that local communities and citizens should be part of environmental monitoring and action.”

Toronto has four government-run air-monitoring stations. Heather Marshall, TEA campaigns director, says the stations don’t give a good sense of air quality at the street level “where there’s a lot more activity and a lot more pollution.”

“Our big goal is to make air pollution a bit more visible to people in communities so they might be a bit more motivated to take action (and) look at what kind of clean air solutions are available in their communities,” says Marshall.

She says TEA has also noticed an increased interest in what she calls “citizen science”.

It’s an exciting way to engage people in their communities on an issue they care about.

TEA, a non-profit group, expects to have volunteers continue monitoring into the fall with the project winding up about November when the weather starts to get cold.

Results are online at showing areas in yellow, orange or red to indicate the air quality. Volunteers are still needed and take the 45-minute training session to learn how to use the monitoring device.

“It’s a very simple device to use. It’s literally a flick of the switch. They don’t have to have any technical background,” says Marshall. “We’ve had people as young as 16 and people into their old age.”

Living next to the Gardiner and Lake Shore Blvd. with all that traffic, Kouril says she’s learned it’s not just vehicle pollution that ruins the air.  

“Construction sites often have negative impacts on our air quality that I did not consider. As we know construction in Toronto occurs all across the city, therefore it is a significant concern.”

TEA’s number is (416) 596-0660.

As originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of The Bulletin.