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Community response to the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Air Quality Study

Updated: Jun 7

Final June 6, 2024

Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood

After three years of air quality measurements conducted by the University of Toronto research team, the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood (BQN) has learned that emissions from the nearby island airport are increasing air pollution exposure in their community. The BQN is home to tens of thousands of people and is in the second most dense riding in the city of Toronto.

New data reveals that concentrations of airborne ultrafine particles (UFP) are higher across the BQN than they would be in the absence of the airport. Researchers recorded that when the wind comes from the southward direction of the airport UFP concentrations are, on average, two to three times higher across the neighbourhood as compared to when wind comes from a northward direction.(1) A southward wind direction is prominent in the summer months.

Ultrafine particles (PM0.1) are invisible to the eye and are produced from vehicles, aircraft, locomotives, power plants, and other forms of combustion. Airports are a known source of UFP emissions. Because of their very small size, UFPs easily enter the body through the lungs and can translocate to essentially all organs. UFPs can travel up the olfactory nerves to the brain and cause cerebral and nervous system dysfunction. (2)

In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the growing evidence that ultrafine particles are damaging our health. This includes 75 studies; mostly relating to lung inflammation, blood pressure and heart problems, along with risks to fetal growth. However, technical differences between the studies meant that the WHO has not yet set a standard. But they did characterize a ‘high’ level of UFP as above 20,000 particles/cm3 for a 1-hour average – and above 10,000 particles/cm3 for a 24-hour average. (3)

Measurements at the ferry terminal, at the foot of Eireann Quay saw the largest spikes in UFP concentrations, measuring 31,000 particles/cm3 across a time window from 6 a.m. - 10 pm in a Southerly wind during June 2022 - August 2022.

In addition, frequent elevated UFP spikes, with concentrations up to and over 100,000 particles/cm3 and lasting a few minutes, were observed across the neighbourhood when the wind came from the southward direction. These concentrations are well above the WHO’s ‘good practice advice’.

Although the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood was the focus of this air quality study, the research final report notes that “Other waterfront communities are presumably being impacted by these emissions when they are downwind of the airport.”

This study updates previous air quality modelling done in the neighbourhood, including the oft-cited 2013 Golder Study(4) that assumed high levels of some air pollutants were caused by vehicle traffic along the city’s highways. However, the Golder study did not include any actual direct measurement of pollutant concentrations and did not model the emissions of UFP, the air pollutant that is now known to have higher concentrations around many airports. Even so, the Medical Officer of Health’s response to the Golder Report concluded that ‘the long-term presence of the airport on the City's Central Waterfront has a more important impact on health than the proposed incremental changes to the airport's operation’ and that ‘optimal protection and enhancement of the health of Central Waterfront residents calls for a reduction of current airport impacts.(5)

“It was the health concerns of people living in the neighbourhood that first initiated this campus – community partnership to investigate our air quality”, said Joan Prowse, chair of the BQNA and Co-Chair of the Air Quality Campus Community Partnership, a partnership that also included the City of Toronto’s Public Health and Planning departments and Ports Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport. “These findings are particularly important because of the close proximity of the airport and airport operations to a children’s playground, Ireland Park, the Waterfront School (Grades JK-8), and a popular baseball diamond in Little Norway Park. What’s more, the City wants to attract tourists to our community with the soon to be completed Bathurst Quay Common and the Corleck Arts and Cultural Centre.”

Numerous studies have shown that the younger the child the most vulnerable his/her lungs are to air pollution. Many seniors and people with compromised immune systems live in the neighbourhood including Windward Co-op, the first fully-accessible co-op in Toronto.

“This Air Quality Study has measured very high concentrations of UFP and many other pollutants produced by planes during the day - at precisely the very time children are at school and in the playground” noted Marie Monique Giroux who was part of the project and lives in the neighbourhood. “This is very concerning as the most vulnerable are exposed to the highest concentrations of UFPs, given the proximity to the airport. Indeed, the daycare and the school are only separated from the airport by a 120 meters channel, and are situated next to the Ferry Terminal that carries many idling cars, trucks, as well as refueling tankers for those planes.”

“The City of Toronto & Toronto Public Health need to take heed of this study, particularly as Ports Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport is requesting an amendment to a 40 year old agreement that governs the waterfront airport, in order to meet government requirements to extend runway end safety areas into the lake and harbour." added Diane Jameson, a long time community member. "The fact that when winds blow from the southerly direction, UFP concentrations spike to two or three times the average, and these are directly linked to aircraft and airport activities. This should serve as a priority for the City and Toronto Public Health as it evaluates the current & future impact of the airport on neighbouring communities and charts the future of Toronto's beloved waterfront."

Interview: CHOQ FM 105.1 Les répercussions de l’aéroport de Billy Bishop sur la qualité de l’air sont publiées. À l’heure de la présentation du rapport, Marie-Monique Giroux, et ses co-résidants, espèrent que ces chiffres influeront les politiques des gouvernementales devant les pics de pollutions constatés.

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(1) BQNA Air Quality Study. Campus-Community Partnership for Reducing Air Pollution in the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood. Positive Zero Transport Futures. University of Toronto.

(3) World Health Organization (WHO) global air quality guidelines. Ultrafine particles good practice statement, 149-152.

(5) City of Toronto. Health Impacts Associated with Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Expansion. Dr. David McKeown, Medical Officer of Health. Staff Report. November 25, 2013.


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