Construction pollution

Construction & Air Pollution

Toronto is faced with a number of urban air pollution challenges and while the greatest contribution is from the combustion of fossil fuels to run our transportation and buildings, construction pollution is a source of localized pollution that can impact workers and surrounding communities.

It is commonly said that in Toronto we have two seasons: winter and construction. Key findings from our recent community-based air monitoring pilot project, INHALE, prompted TEA to investigate regulations and best practices that could be used to reduce and better manage air pollution from construction sites.

Different types of construction result in different types of pollution, some of which pose greater health & environmental risks than others. The level of impact is influenced by the materials used and emissions that are released into the air, but it also increases relative to the scale, duration, and activities of the construction project. There are also greater health and environmental risks if more than one activity takes place at the same time on the site and/or if there are sensitive populations or natural environments in close proximity to the project site.

Types of Construction Activities

  • Demolition
  • Earthworks 
  • Construction
  • Dragout

Demolition of buildings and earthworks activities like excavation and piling generally pose greater air pollution risks than construction and dragout (trucks tracking out dirt). To better understand the range of factors that influence the creation of dust and air pollution on any given construction site, view TEA's Dust Creation Magnitude Chart.

Types of Construction Pollution

  • Dusts
  • Diesel Emissions

Diesel exhaust is known to cause cancer and the emissions significantly impact local air quality and climate change. There are different types of dust created on construction sites and some, such as silica and asbestos, pose greater air pollution risks than others. Read TEA's summary of the types of air pollution from construction sites to learn more.

Construction Best Practices

There are some rules that construction sites must follow, but there are far more best practices out there than what's prescribed by law. TEA compiled a list of common best practices that can be used to manage various types of harmful dusts and air pollution from demolition, earthworks, construction and dragout activities. View TEA's Construction Best Practices Chart.

Do you have air quality or other concerns related to an existing construction site in your community?

Take a look at TEA's Frequently Asked Questions page for tips on how to report complaints about a construction site by clicking the button below: 


If you are interested in ways to identify high-risk construction projects and get familiar with best practices and regulations that can be employed, click the button below to download our simple guide:

Scale of Construction

  • Small scale - Single property developments like residential infill construction
  • Large scale - Large property developments like multi-residential buildings or subdivision construction, mixed-use development, institutional/commercial/industrial developments

The scale of construction is a major factor in determining how much air pollution could be produced by the project. The City of Toronto and Ontario Government play different roles in regulating, overseeing and permitting different projects. Below you will find more information about how small scale and large scale construction projects can reduce their air pollution impacts on the local community and environment.

Small Scale - Residential Infill Construction

Councillor Jaye Robinson, Chair of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, has taken a lead in identifying ways the city government can reduce the health and environmental impacts of dust from residential construction sites. Back in 2014, Robinson requested that action be taken by the Environment & Energy Division to investigate ways to manage construction dust [Ref]. By 2016, Council had adopted a strategy to minimize the negative impacts of construction activity through a combination of regulation, enforcement and sectoral education on best practices [Ref].  In 2018, the proposed Dust Control by-law was approved and new requirements such as the Residential Infill Public Notice were put in place and a best practices guide was published.

The City of Toronto defines residential ‘infill’ development as either the renovation of existing housing or the demolition of existing housing and construction new housing. While many typical infill developments in Toronto are small scale, single home projects, there are also very large scale development projects such as the construction of high-rise residential buildings and institutional buildings such as on school & hospital campuses.

While the strategy is limited to smaller scale residential infill construction projects only, it is a huge step forward to reduce the air quality impacts from these projects and provide concerned residents with a much clearer path for resolving issues with construction sites.

A 'good neighbour' guide to construction
The City of Toronto developed a great The Good Neighbour Guide for Residential Infill Construction which outlines the rules for these types of construction projects as well as a range of voluntary best practices to ensure that the construction site can avoid nuisance, health, safety and environmental issues that could impact workers or community members.



A new dust by-law for residential infill construction
In July 2018, Toronto City Council passed a new Dust Control by-law that will regulate residential construction dust in our city. A residential property that is under construction could be forced to stop work, pay fines and potentially have their permit revoked if dust escapes from the construction site and enters neighbouring properties or public premises.

Certain preventative measures can be used to control dust and if a construction site takes “reasonable measures” as defined by Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS), the by-law will not apply to them. MLS identified that at least one of the following  reasonable preventative measures should be used to control dust:

  • wetting the construction material;
  • using a wet saw;
  • using dustless saw technology;
  • tarping or otherwise containing the source of dust;
  • installing wind fencing or a fence filter;
  • using a vacuum attachment when cutting; or
  • any other preventative measure deemed by the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards, to be adequate in the mitigation of dust escaping a residential property based on the nature of the activity.

Toronto City Council defines dust, for the purpose of the by-law, as: “solid particles which may become or be airborne as a result of residential construction activities, including, but not limited to, trimming, blasting, drilling, crushing, grinding, sawing, screening, cutting, altering or moving of clay, mortar, stone, rock, stucco, concrete, tile and insulation.” [Ref]

Because there are different types of dust created on construction sites, some pose greater air pollution risks than others. While some can be easily managed with the reasonable measures listed above, there should also be careful consideration of preventative measures that can be taken to eliminate the risks of more hazardous dust types. Read TEA's summary of the types of air pollution from construction sites to learn more.

Large Scale Construction Projects

City Council has decided that the Dust Control by-law will not apply to municipal works, construction occurring on commercial and industrial properties nor will it apply to the construction of a multi-residential building, subdivision, or mixed-use development.

TEA has compiled information on the rules and best practices that can be applied to these larger scale projects that are not easily regulated by the City of Toronto’s current initiatives. Given that Toronto has many large-scale projects planned and underway that can produce significant amounts of air pollution, it is important to understand the factors that can increase impact risks and find legal and voluntary measures to improve conditions on construction sites for the benefit of workers, communities and the environment.

If you are interested in ways to identify high-risk construction projects, negotiate conditions on construction sites, and get familiar with best practices and regulations that can be employed, click the button below to download our simple guide:


Thank you to our project funder: 

OTFHORIZcolour.jpgOntario Trillium Foundation

An agency of the Government of Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is one of Canada’s largest granting foundations. With a budget of over $136 million, OTF awards grants to some 1,000 projects every year to build healthy and vibrant Ontario communities.