Let's get started on improving Ottawa’s air quality

Our friends at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) are compelling the Medical Officer of Health to investigate air pollution around trucking routes passing through downtown Ottawa, following data collected by Ecology Ottawa volunteers in our Breathe Easy campaign. 

In January, EcoJustice sent an open letter to newly elected Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, on behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada and CAPE, warning of the health hazard and urging city council to act. 

This letter used data collected by dedicated Ecology Ottawa volunteers, who took mobile air quality monitors to locations across the city in 2020 and 2021 to map the levels of air pollution in various locations. This project was considered essential to supplement the data from the single official downtown air quality monitoring location at MacDonald Gardens Park on Wurtemburg Street. 

The letter states that: “After compiling data from sample points throughout the City, the Breathe Easy final report observed that: there is a substantive, positive correlation (57%, R=0.57) between the number of trucks driven within 2 kilometres of the [sites] and the average PM2.5 measurements… Finding this significant correlation is therefore suggestive that trucks are a particularly problematic source of pollution within the city. Those living along high-volume trucking routes are therefore subject to a greater health risk than others.” 

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Photo credit: Wolfgang Hasselmann at Unsplash. 

The health benefits are unarguable, but the letter goes on: [r]e-thinking transport in the downtown core could thus have huge benefits for public health, business, tourism, and civic welfare. This is fundamentally important as we rethink our downtown as we encourage people back into the downtown core after COVID. 

Despite the significant negative health impacts highlighted in the letter, as well as social and economic benefits of making a change, no movement was made by the Mayor’s Office on this important issue. As a result, doctors from CAPE in February used the data from Breathe Easy to lodge a complaint under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, on the basis that air pollution from the trucks poses a health hazard to downtown residents. The complaint, written by Ecojustice, compels the Medical Officer of Health to investigate.  

This month, as we act on the City of Ottawa’s important “spare our air” anti-idling campaign (and call for greater enforcement), we can consider all the many changes which can be made to make our city a healthy, welcoming, vibrant place to live and work. 

And you never know, it might finally be time to address one of the worst environmental inequities in our city!

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