By: Sarah Watson
A notice of motion on air quality in the Toronto Transit Commission’s subway is scheduled to be presented at the transit commission’s board meeting tomorrow.
The motion by Coun. Joe Mihevc and seconded by Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, recommends the TTC investigate potential health hazards that could arise from air pollution.
This comes after a study by Health Canada found air pollution in the Toronto subway system was 10 times higher than above ground, with high levels of particulate matter, likely resulting from the friction of steel wheels against tracks.
Jessica Bell, executive director of TTCriders, a Toronto-based transit advocacy group, said she and the group endorse the motion.
“[The TTC] needs to be proactive. We’re supportive of that,” Bell said. “If there’s a way to clean it, they should be cleaning it.”
She said they are concerned for both riders, especially those with pre-existing health issues, and for TTC subway workers, some of whom spend eight hours per day underground.
Mihevc requests in the notice of motion the TTC work in tandem with Toronto Public Health to fully understand any health impacts that the particulates could potentially cause.
“For TTC there is a need to conduct a risk assessment on staff exposures, be they cleaners, operators, station collectors, supervisory/security officials, or maintenance staff who work entire shifts underground,” the notice of motion states.
On Tuesday, Amalgamated Toronto Union Local 113, which represents the majority of Toronto’s transit workers, released a video demanding the TTC provide better protections for subway workers from poor air quality, specifically asking for the option for TTC workers to wear masks while working underground.
“It’s clear the TTC has failed to live up to its promise to protect their workers’ health,” the video says.
Officials from the TTC are not commenting on the video, but referred to a statement from Chief Safety Officer John O’Grady. The statement, released on May 4 before the video was posted, was in response to two TTC employees refusing to work without respirators, as well as general concerns from employees about the underground air quality.
“Interpretation of the ministry’s findings in conjunction with other TTC studies gives the TTC confidence that the conditions within the subway do not warrant employees wearing respirators,” O’Grady said in the statement.
Bell says it is worth it to take precautions.
“If you’re down there for eight hours, and there’s an easy way to protect your lungs,
why shouldn’t they be able to wear a mask?” Bell asked.
The TTC said in the May 4 statement that it is “exploring means to reduce exposures for both passengers and workers” with a new air quality study this summer.