Doctors say Canadians reap huge health benefits from reducing air pollution

Scientific evidence points ‘unequivocally’ to the need for decisive action to protect Canadians from the adverse health effects of traffic-related air pollution, according to a new report prepared by doctors calling for a shift to electric vehicles and to greener and more walkable cities.

Such a transition will produce “tremendous health benefits,” say members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), in a report that summarizes nearly 1,200 research studies published between 2015 and 2020.

A “striking” amount of evidence links traffic pollution to poor health, Jane McArthur, co-author of the report and campaign manager with CAPE, told The Globe and Mail.

Studies show that the diverse and profound health effects of vehicle emissions extend far beyond the established link with respiratory conditions “to encompass cardiovascular and neurological problems, allergies and adverse effects related to cancer and pregnancy,” reports the Globe.

“In 2021, Health Canada estimated that air pollution contributes to 15,300 premature deaths each year across the country. And for major Canadian population centers, where emissions from power generation and other industries have declined, traffic has played an increasing role as a source of emissions,” the report said.

While emissions reductions are already considered necessary to meet climate targets, the Globe says the report highlights additional health benefits “that would arise from reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and fine particles associated with vehicles, among other substances that can wreak havoc on the body.”

“It affects every system in the body and affects 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 meters of a major road and therefore face high health risks from traffic-related air pollution. “Much of this risk falls unequally on low-income individuals and families who are more likely to live in areas with poorer air quality,” reports the Globe.

The study also clearly shows how the ills of traffic pollution are straining the public healthcare system, Green said, adding that moving quickly to make communities greener and more walkable would bring “tremendous benefits.” for health”.

To achieve these gains, the CAPE report recommends the creation of low-emission zones in cities – where electric vehicles, bicycles and public transport would be prioritized, as well as “tighter rules on fuel content and type of vehicle”.

Planting trees and shrubs along busy roads would help protect adjacent neighborhoods from traffic pollution, while better ventilation systems in buildings would protect interior spaces.

Stressing that traffic-related air pollution is a systemic problem that “simply cannot be solved at the individual level,” Green urged Canadians to take action to protect air quality and their quality. of life. “If an individual is concerned about this issue, they should demand action from their politicians.”