The Air Pollution Crisis and Its
Effects on Bicycle
A report by the Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier
prepared by joe hendry
2. What is smog and what causes it?
3. Why are couriers at risk?
4. Health effects of smog on
5. What is a safe level of
6. Diesel exhaust causes cancer
7. Air Quality Advisory Days
8. Economic Impacts of Air
9. Who is Responsible?
10. Conclusions and
In recent years there have been many new compelling
and effects of air pollution. At the same time there have been drastic
cutbacks to the agencies responsible for the quality of this air. The
of this report is to examine the new evidence as it relates to bicycle
and foot messengers in Toronto and what our governments are doing about
it. Furthermore, as hosts of the second annual North American Cycle
Championships, June 5-6, 1999, the Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier
(THC3) felt it necessary to inform participants as to the risks and
associated with Ontario’s air.
Ontario’s 23,000 doctors recently declared the quality
air a “public health crisis” for all the province’s residents.
health crisis poses its greatest dangers to vulnerable groups such as
the elderly and outdoor workers. The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier
(THC3), representing Toronto’s bicycle and foot messengers, is deeply
about the effects of smog and pollution on bike and foot couriers. We
troubled by our city’s and our province's immediate and future
to this crisis. The Coalition points to the disturbing trend that the
of our environment have allowed the outdoor space of our city to become
a dangerous work place. They have ignored the overwhelming
health and economic impacts and their consequences on both the
members and the region itself.
The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition maintains
City Council and the Government of Ontario have recklessly neglected
health and welfare of outdoor workers. New scientific studies show that
there is no “threshold level for ground level ozone or particulate
which no health effects are observed." This means that the health
of bike messengers is constantly at risk.
The province of Ontario continues to face many
to which our governments have failed to respond. Ontario’s
air quality and increasing car volume and dependence jeopardizes the
and quality of life of many of its residents yet both the province and
the city continue to promote policies that exacerbate the crisis.
As Toronto’s Environmental Task Force has noted “current
polling reflects a growing awareness - and concern - for environmental
issues. Two in three Toronto residents now believe that their personal
health has been affected by environmental pollution. This is especially
true of air quality: Torontonians view respiratory problems as the
one environmental concern for their health, even more so than
Recently the City of Toronto resurrected the subject of
quality of indoor air and the health effects of such air upon
patrons and workers. City Councilors are taking steps to improve the
of indoor air through legislation. The province of Ontario launched a
suit in US courts against American tobacco manufacturers to recover
costs caused by cigarettes. It's time attention was directed at outdoor
air. The province acknowledges that at least 1800 Ontario residents die
every year due to the air pollution crisis yet the province does
nothing. Should we sue the province for contributing to these deaths
damaging our health?
According to Toronto’s Healthy City Office “after a smog
of hospital admissions are related to ozone.” According to the
Medical Association (OMA) about “1,400 hospital admissions each year in
Ontario are caused by respiratory problems aggravated by particulate
Smog is responsible for hundreds of thousands of illnesses in Ontario
year. In recent rankings Ontario was listed as the third worst region
North America for pollution. The Windsor -Quebec corridor (Southern
has the worst air quality in Canada. A national study determined that
air is the dirtiest of all major cities in Canada. "Virtually every
is exposed to ozone levels that could kill, or at the very least, put
in hospital." Yet provincial and municipal authorities continue
implement policies that put the health of Ontario residents,
bike couriers) at greater risk.
The province withdrew all funding of public transit and
Toronto successfully campaigned for a hike in transit fares even though
Toronto's Transit system is the least subsidized system in North
The provincial minister of transportation displays complete ignorance
the transportation problems faced by Toronto with statements such as
is too dependent on transit." The Mayor recently called upon all
Torontonians to help clean up the city. At the same time it was
that Toronto bought two new diesel powered street cleaners to help with
job . Diesel fuel is one of the dirtiest available and is notorious for
its cancer causing agents. Uninformed statements and policies by
elected officials demonstrate a complete neglect of our air quality and
a lack of leadership in the region.
Ontario's "sulphur levels in gasoline and diesel are
in the developed world at 579 parts per million (ppm) in gasoline and
fuels of 2620 ppm off-road . In the United States, President Clinton
announced emission standards of 30 ppm for gasoline . California
has these emission standards. In Ontario the provincial government has
done nothing except gut our ability to protect our environment leading
to a decline in our health and putting undue pressure on our health
system. It is clear that the current health care crisis facing Ontario
is directly linked to the pollution crisis.
Unless our governments act quickly to address this
crisis vulnerable groups such as bike couriers will be left with no
Messengers will be forced to gain protection and recover the damages
they have incurred through the courts. The Toronto Hoof and Cycle
Coalition urges all groups representing those most at risk from smog to
document, compile and quantify damages to their members so that we all
may recover our losses.
2. WHAT IS SMOG AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
The term “smog” comes from the words “smoke” and “fog”
to the “chemical soup” that blankets the region mainly in the summer.
main components of smog include ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides,
organic compounds (VOC’s), carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and
matter (PM.) Smog is not emitted. It is formed generally on hot sunny
when the sun’s heat causes a chemical reaction with nitrogen oxides and
VOC’s. This reaction results in the formation of ground-level ozone.
The major sources of the pollutants that make up smog
and coal-fired generating plants. Nitrogen oxides are emitted from the
combustion of fuels, mainly from cars, buses, trucks and other
vehicles but also from the coal-burning power plants that generates
Particulate matter is tiny solid or liquid particles.
emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels especially diesel and
engines and coal-burning power plants. They include particles from
sites and dust. Most studies concentrate on particles less than 10
(PM10) and less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5). These tiny particles are
inhaled deep into the lungs and remain there. These particles are so
that two thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this
Other hazardous air pollutants may attach themselves to fine particles,
increasing their toxicity.
About have of the pollutants attributable to smog in
the Great Lakes from the United States.
3. WHY ARE COURIERS AT RISK?
According to all studies on air quality, children are
the dangers of air pollution. Some of the reasons that children are
vulnerable to these health effects include the fact that they spend
time outdoors, breathe faster than adults do and are engaged in more
activity outside. Bicycle messengers share these same risks and others.
They too spend more time outdoors, breathe faster and engage in
physical activity. Messengers have already lived through an entire
exposed to smog and its effects on their developing lungs. “Several
have demonstrated that children living near major roadways have poorer
lung function than those living in cleaner areas.” There are no studies
on bike messengers but it is reasonable to assume that they have
According to the Air Resources Board, most people spend
hours each day outdoors . Most bike couriers spend 7 to 9 hours each
outdoors working with about 4 to 5 hours per day in traffic . Our lungs
are not more than about 10 feet from an exhaust pipe for most of the
It is known that the closer an individual is to the source of pollution
the greater their exposure to that pollution. All messengers are
with the taste, smell, and choking of traffic exhaust that is spewed
into our lungs.
Messengers are outside at the time of day that is most
the air quality is the worst. Much of the courier work involves a high
level of physical exertion that requires a higher, more intense rate of
breathing and a greater intake of air. As a result bike messengers
higher doses of pollution at greater concentrations and
Bicycle couriers work all day, year round in the midst
lungs have minimal opportunity to recover from the effects of polluted
air. We are chronically exposed to high doses of dangerously polluted
for long term, extended periods of time.
4. THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF SMOG ON
All of us have been affected by air pollution. Sometimes
displayed and sometimes they are not. The symptoms of the effects of
include coughing, wheezing, irritation in the airways, rapid or shallow
breathing, discomfort when breathing or general discomfort in the
Individuals who are exposed to high levels of air pollution often find
that their symptoms of smog exposure disappear over time. However smog
continues to cause lung damage even after the symptoms are gone.
exposure to air pollutants can reduce lung function permanently.
Studies show that air pollution aggravates lung
the body's ability to fight infection. Reduced lung function and
lung inflammation results in reduced exercise capacity. Research has
that "there is an association between increased lower respiratory tract
disease (e.g., acute bronchitis, pneumonia), cardiac disease and air
Asthma is much more serious when exposed to air pollution. Studies also
show that "individuals may be affected by air pollution without
A an autopsy study on 107 young accident victims, from
ages 14 to
25, in Southern California, showed evidence of lung disease. The lungs
of 104 of the 107 (97%), displayed signs of “chronic lung disease,
low-level bronchitis, chronic interstitial pneumonia, and an
rate of severe chronic inflammation of the respiratory
Few of these subjects had shown any signs of breathing disorders before
they died. One of the researchers commented that the subjects “had
of older people.” Air pollution is highly suspected of
premature aging of the lungs.
For sensitive individuals, any increase in air
how small, can cause underlying illnesses to become more severe. These
effects may result in increased visits to a doctor or emergency room,
increase in medication use, admission to hospital, or even premature
The profession of a bike messenger is physically
are in excellent physical shape. However this does not protect us from
the effects of smog. In a recent study 17 world class cyclists were
to varying levels of ozone while exercising. They became weaker, their
endurance decreased by a third and their lung function by a quarter.
Other studies show "even healthy outdoor workers show a
in lung function when exposed to low-levels of ozone." A study of
berry pickers in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia revealed that
for individuals living and working in areas of relatively low ambient
concentrations (13 to 84 parts per billion), ozone exposures were
enough to be associated with a decrease in lung function during the
This impairment of the lungs continued until the next day even though
were not displayed.
According to the Ontario Medical Association’s review of
pollution, individual reactions to pollution will vary depending on
factors. Some people are more sensitive than others are. Furthermore a
person’s reaction depends on the level of pollution, the degree of
and the level of activity. Because couriers work outside we have
greater exposure. Repeated or chronic exposure leads to more health
because “once an individual begins to react to a pollutant, this
becomes established and recurs with further exposures.”
Evidence clearly demonstrates that long term exposure to
only associated with decreased lung function but also city specific
rates. A U.S. study, the "Harvard Six Cities Study" showed that
rates increase consistently with air concentrations of particles less
2.5 micrometres (PPM2.5) in size.
According to the World Health Organization evidence is
a link between childhood cancer and motor vehicle exhaust. It is
that this may be due to benzene exposure. Benzene is a known carcinogen
that is present in motor vehicle exhaust. The threat from benzene
to couriers is serious. It is likely that long term exposure will
in the deaths of bike messengers due to cancer.
It is clear that smog kills and it is clear that the
are among the greatest toward bicycle messengers who perform athletic
outdoors, in the downtown core on a daily basis. Government
are guidelines must protect against the chronic exposure that threaten
bike couriers. Currently they are set to protect the risks from
5. WHAT IS A SAFE LEVEL OF AIR
Recent studies have determined that current standards
of air pollution are inappropriate. Current levels of pollution are "so
lethal that even the lunchtime jogger may be taking chances by running
outside," and there does not appear to be a threshold level for
level ozone or particulate below which no health effects are
A new federal study reported that ground level ozone is
at "concentrations less than one-fifth of the current federal
It says "statistically significant adverse health effects from ozone
at 15 parts per billion (ppb)." The current federal guideline is 82
For every increase in ozone of 10 ppb visits to the hospital increase
Another report on particulate matter determined that
for the microscopic particles are set at unsafe levels. Both PM10 and
must be cut province wide to protect health. Ontario's current interim
guideline for the PM10 is set at 50 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre)
but the report states that both federal and provincial experts agree
a level of 25 ug/m3 is needed to protect human health.
The report also characterizes particulates as the "most
and environmental issue of the decade." However spokesmen representing
industries whose profit margin would be affected by such standards are
already complaining, sounding much like the tobacco companies of the
The province's biggest polluters are upset that the scientific experts
found the evidence "remarkable, robust and compelling."
In the United Sates, the Environmental Protection Agency
the concentrations of 148 hazardous air pollutants throughout the U.S.
These airborne toxic agents, including benzene, formaldehyde, 1,3
and acetaldehyde, have received little attention in the current air
crisis. When the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) calculated the health
risks of these air toxics, they found that most Americans faced an air
pollution cancer risk that was 100 times higher than Congress' goal.
some Americans the risk was 1,000 times higher. Given that
is the third worst region for pollution in North America, it is certain
that Ontarians face similar if not worse cancer risks. For couriers
risk, at present, is incalculable.
The study pointed to motor vehicles as the major cause
risk. "The numbers show that cars, trucks, and small businesses tend to
be responsible for much more of the air's toxicity than is generally
Washington, D.C. showed a higher per-capita cancer risk than all of the
50 states, despite having no major industrial facilities. Motor
were almost entirely responsible for its air toxics.
Over the last few years more and more studies have
current guidelines and standards for virtually every kind of air
are not tough enough to protect human health. The Toronto Hoof and
Courier Coalition is adamant that emergency measures must be taken to
our health. In fact for many couriers it may be too late. Eventually
health damage to messengers, from years of chronic exposure to these
will be revealed. We are committed to recovering damages from every
government, corporation, and individual responsible for these unsafe
of air toxics.
Health Canada, along with provincial and federal
to monitor exposure levels to smog. Some of these studies involve the
of pollution-measuring devices carried by volunteers that enable
to compare personal exposure levels measured at regional air monitoring
sites. A personal exposure study of bicycle couriers is long overdue.
Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition urges federal and provincial
to include messengers in such a study. We will advise our members to
and we would offer any assistance for such a personal smog exposure
6. DIESEL EXHAUST CAUSES CANCER
In Toronto, bicycle messengers inhale diesel exhaust all
everywhere. Most of the city’s buses and trucks run on diesel. Diesel
poses a major health hazard that can be linked to cancer, asthma, other
respiratory diseases and death.
The reason diesel exhaust is so dangerous is because it
of constituent chemicals, dozens of which are recognized human
carcinogens, reproductive hazards, or endocrine disrupters. Diesel
exhaust contains 100 to 200 times more small particles than gasoline
exhaust.” A study by the Health Effects Institute reported that
percent of diesel particles are less than 1 micron in size.” Tiny
particle matter are the most dangerous as they penetrate deep into the
recesses of the lungs and remain there.
Recently, compelling studies have prompted many
diesel a cancer-causing agent. Diesel exhaust has been “known to
the State of California to cause cancer” since 1990. The National
of Occupational Safety and Health (USA) and the International Agency
Research on Cancer both list diesel a “probable human carcinogen”.
independent panel of scientists “unanimously endorsed designation of
exhaust as a toxic air contaminant on April 22, 1998.” In a July
31,1998 press release, the World Health Organization (WHO), proclaimed
that "scientists attending the European Forum on Transport, Environment
and Health, jointly organized by the European Regional Office of the
Health Organization and the Austrian Ministry for the Environment
that diesel exhaust contains a number of potential and proved
and contributes to the human lung cancer burden."
Many studies have shown that diesel exhaust causes
and damage to DNA, processes, which are believed to cause cancer. A
by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Coalition for
Air concluded individuals who work around heavy diesel truck traffic
“a disproportionate burden of the health risks are and paying the price
for our society’s addiction to diesel engines.” These groups along with
the Environmental Law Foundation “intend to take their campaign to the
courts, initiating a series of lawsuits under California’s toxics
“Short-term or peak exposures to diesel particulate
in urban settings such as “street canyons” are usually higher than
or annual average concentrations.” Researchers have shown that “street
canyons” between high buildings in cities can concentrate diesel
levels to as high as 8.8 ug/m3 from light duty diesel vehicles alone.”
As a result “we can expect high concentrations of diesel
in urban streets where truck and bus traffic is high.” In 1998,
of urban streets by the NRDC and the Clean Air Coalition confirmed
of diesel exhaust above 50 ug/m3 for a significant portion of the
The threat from diesel exhaust to messengers is serious.
bicycle couriers spend the entire workday riding the urban street
where the contaminants from diesel exhaust concentrate. Our exposure to
unsafe levels of these air toxics is unacceptable. There exist no
on bike messengers exposure to diesel exhaust but many other
at risk have been targets of studies.
There is overwhelming evidence from these studies of
exposed to diesel exhaust revealing an increased cancer risk. Most of
over two dozen well-designed worker studies found lung cancer increases
in those exposed to diesel exhaust for over a decade.” This risk has
to do with smoking. “The occupational studies consistently demonstrate
that exposure to diesel exhaust for ten years or more does
increase the human incidence of lung cancer, and possibly of bladder
The Environmental Protection Agency, the National
Safety and Health, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer
have all consistently agreed on the relationship between diesel exhaust
exposure and lung cancer. Since cancers induced by diesel exhaust
a latency period of a number of years between damaging exposure and
of cancer and since risk increases with duration of exposure, many
face a serious risk of developing lung cancer in the future. This type
of cancer is deadly. The prognosis for lung cancer is not good. Less
14 percent of victims survive five years after diagnosis.
7. AIR QUALITY ADVISORY DAYS
A Smog Alert or Air Quality Advisory (AQA) Day occurs
Index (AQI) reaches a level of 50 or greater. In the province of
this corresponds to an ambient air quality of 80 ppb for ground level
Toronto’s “Smog Alert Response Plan” for these days results in public
about the dangers posed by the air quality and the government
that Torontonians refrain from physical activity and long periods
Environment Canada advises people to reduce the amount of time spent
and avoid exercise, particularly in the afternoon. Health and Welfare
suggests avoiding exercising near heavy traffic areas, at least during
According to the best scientific advice, it is not safe
to work on smog alert days. Furthermore new studies have determined
the ambient air quality criteria should be set at least 25 ppb for
and not the current 80 ppb. Under this criteria, practically every day
in Toronto qualifies as an "Air Quality Advisory Day" and the health
medical community would advise that it is never safe for bike
to work in Toronto.
Bicycle couriers don't have much choice. We must work on
are paid on a piece work basis. If we don't work, we don't get paid.
agencies have made it impossible for couriers to stay home on days that
are dangerous to our health.
Couriers work hard for every cent. We are forced to
at every turn. Although messengers are employed by one company, these
do everything they can to disguise the employment relationship. The
Labour Organization has allowed employer representatives to prevent the
ILO from agreeing on an international convention on disguised
and contract labour. When it comes to the employment standards act, the
Ontario government is lax towards the messenger industry. We do not
time off for lunch. There are no sick or extended health benefits. We
receive payment for statutory holidays, overtime or vacation. Couriers
don't receive employment insurance unless we go through a long process
of fighting to be classed as employees and virtually all couriers are
of their rights or the process to achieve them. Although bike couriers
are covered by workers compensation, it's kept a quiet secret and most
couriers are informed to the contrary. We are charged for the use of
radios, pagers and phones even on days we cannot work.
Despite a court ruling that couriers can claim a portion
as a tax deduction for fuel, Revenue Canada continues to do everything
in its power to disallow the deduction depriving messengers of
for these costs. Canada Post fails to enforce the Canada Post Act,
courier companies to charge less than the legal limit. Since couriers'
incomes are based on these charges, messengers must work longer and
to make the same money we made years earlier.
It is apparent that government agencies make it much
for messengers to stay home on smog alert days. If a courier did stay
and informed their company that the air was too dangerous to work, that
messenger would likely be fired on the spot.
The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition points to
of this situation and stresses Air Quality Advisory Days present a
crisis that governments have failed to address. On these days the
and the city must take important steps to offer incentives for
by residents and impose serious penalties on polluters who cause
According to the Government of Ontario’s own 1998 “Smog
eight out every ten cars contain only the driver. Since about 66%
of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and about 93% of Carbon Monoxide (CO2) in the
city comes from motor vehicles, the greatest opportunities to quickly
smog involve targeting car usage and volume.
Other cities around the world have faced similar air
and shown leadership in confronting them. In the fall of 1997 Paris,
had a smog crisis for many days. They responded by passing legislation
limiting cars in the city. On October 1, only cars whose license plate
ended in an odd number were permitted to drive in the city. Cars with
or more passengers were also allowed. After limiting cars for one day
smog dissipated and the crisis ended.
The city of Tulsa Oklahoma responds to Ozone alert days
free transit service, which encourages residents to leave their cars at
home. New Jersey recently announced a transit discount pass to be
on ozone alert days.
The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition urges
and their provincial counterparts to act quickly concerning Air Quality
Advisory (AQA) days. There exist many feasible opportunities for
to consider including but not limited to:
Toronto must not only reaffirm a commitment to enforcement of its
control by-law but it must amend the by-law to remove the exception on
very hot days. The exception on cold days at least makes a little
as heat is a necessity for cars. However air conditioning, in cars, is
a luxury not a necessity. Air conditioners damage the ozone layer and
hot days that are exempted by the by-law are the very days that qualify
as AQA days.
- offer free transit on AQA days;
- reduce speed limits on all GTA highways and
- ban all large diesel powered vehicles in the downtown
- establishing car free zones in the regions most
- limit the volume of cars permitted to enter the city
car pooling and preventing single occupancy vehicles from entering the
- ensure that polluters pay for some of the damage they
user fees on certain roads (especially the Gardiner Expressway and the
DVP) which would be increased on AQA days
- introduce an environmental surcharge/tax on all
tickets in the
city (to help pay for the free transit);
- double all fines for parking and environmental
on AQA days
The best solution for AQA days is for Toronto to reduce
round. Proactive long term reductions traffic volume will ensure that
has no AQA days to which emergency short term reactions are
The governments of Ontario and Toronto must make the
of outdoor workers such as bike messengers a priority over the
of those who are more protected against the effects of smog.
8. ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF SMOG
Air pollution exacts many costs on the residents and
An estimated 1,800 to 6,000 deaths per year , the 1,400 hospital
per year, the increased cases of asthma and bronchitis, the lost work
school days and the decline in quality of life for children, the
and outdoor workers. The costs of pollution are everywhere. Acid rain,
crop damage global warning, changing weather patterns and their
costs present an enormous burden on the taxpayers of the future.
According to Environment Canada the smog problem costs
cities about $10 billion annually. In Ontario it is estimated that
to the ozone layer directly results in $70 million per year in crop
If Ontario acted on the OMA's recommendations to improve air quality,
could save taxpayers anywhere from $398 million to $1.2 billion in
care costs attributed to mortality and morbidity alone.
Motor vehicles cause many of the health costs related to
also cost us in other ways too. The unchecked increase in car usage and
volume has forced the Ministry of Transportation for Ontario (MTO) to
$1.2 billion in the last two years just to maintain highway
It is estimated that traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto Area
costs Ontario’s economy $2 billion a year in time delays and reduced
A 1997 study of 37 world cities “showed that cities with more balanced
transportation systems are doing better economically than those that
more auto-dependent, where traffic congestion is undermining economic
There are additional costs to bike couriers. Messengers
delivery. Our income is directly related to our output and our output
directly related to our health. If a messenger is sick that messenger
not get paid. The higher the smog levels the more stress and damage on
the lungs of messengers. This means our bodies must work harder and it
means we are unable to work as fast or as long as normal.
Bicycle messengers rely on their skills to keep them
in traffic. A recent study determined that Toronto's drivers are the
in the country. Riding a bike in the midst of these drivers with
lungs and coughing and wheezing can be dangerous. Smog increases the
risk to injury from traffic.
By not addressing these problems and their causes, all
have amassed huge environmental and health care debts that future
will be forced to repay with tax hikes. Vulnerable groups such as
couriers, outdoor workers, asthmatics, children, the elderly and people
with respiratory problems will certainly bring lawsuits in the future
governments and corporations as a result of their suffering.
In 1997, over 2800 North American economists, including
signed a statement acknowledging that many potential policies exist to
reduce emissions for which the total benefits far outweigh the total
Financial institutions, credit rating services and
should consider these costs and the health and environment debt when
projections. Investors are at risk from the burden of these costs and
potential damages from lawsuits. Investors must be informed of this
9. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Air pollution is caused from a variety of sources. The
are related to coal fired power plants and motor vehicles. These
bear major responsibility for the damages caused by smog but all levels
of government (especially the provincial government) are equal partners
in this crisis. The short sightedness and lack of vision by government
demonstrates a complete void in leadership at the top levels from which
all Ontarians will suffer.
The provincial government has the most jurisdiction over
is this government that has failed its people the most. The ministries
of health, transportation, energy, economic development and municipal
have avoided all opportunities to deal with the smog problem. The
of Environment (MOE) has been gutted by a 40% budget cut and has
its own responsibility for air quality, relying on out of date
that it hopes will lead to voluntary compliance by major polluters.
Ontario's current lack of leadership and neglect of air
provoked a threatened lawsuit. Environmental groups and the mother of
asthmatic child have demanded an independent investigator look into
that the provincial environment ministry is breaking its own pollution
laws. "We knew the Harris government's air management program was
but now we know it's also illegal," said Christine Elwell of the Sierra
Club of Canada.
The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition notes that
government's deplorable record on the environment left it vulnerable to
such a lawsuit. We support the demand for an independent investigation
and we are currently contemplating our own legal action against the
The environment groups charge that:
by permitting air pollution levels which are killing Ontarians in the
thousands, the MOE [is] in violation of the Environmental Protection
(EPA). Section 14 of the EPA states: "no person shall…permit the
of a contaminant…that causes or is likely to cause an adverse effect."
The definition of "adverse effect" includes "an adverse effect on the
of any person", or "harm or material discomfort to any person". Section
20 of the EPA states: "This Act is binding on the Crown [i.e. the
Ontario Hydro (which is owned by the provincial
for generating Ontario's electricity. Much of that electricity is
by coal burning plants that emit many air toxics into the environment.
Ontario Hydro's continued reliance on coal resulted in a 60% to 70%
in emissions since 1996. The Ontario government has plans to
the Hydro industry allowing competition. However the government has not
planned any emissions caps. Without these caps companies will increase
their reliance on cheaper coal generated electricity and emissions will
continue to rise at the expense of the health and the health care
of Ontarians. Coal burning has been shown to be a dangerous method of
electricity. In London in 1952, hundreds of people died in a few days
of the contaminated air cause by coal burning.
Our city and our province are becoming more dependent on
This dependence causes the greatest damage to the quality of our air.
today's vehicles are cleaner they cause more pollution. The reason is
The number of licensed drivers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is
to have doubled in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Governments and
manufacturers have done nothing to promote responsible use of motor
The provincial government's policies have made it
for Ontarians to use alternative methods of transportation. The Ontario
government has abandoned all provincial funding for public transit.
have weakened land use regulations, which now encourage urban sprawl
decreased population density. These policies result in increased costs
to provide public transit for municipalities while at the same time,
workers further from their places of employment. People have little
but to drive their cars more often and further distances thereby
not only air pollution but also noise pollution and traffic accidents.
The Ontario government also permits these cars to be propelled by the
gasoline in the developed world, with 579 parts per million (ppm) of
By comparison California's standard is 30 ppm.
What Ontario has done is sue American Electrical Power
United States for the cross border pollution that is blown in to
However this move to "vigorously defend the air" , (as Premier Harris
is laughed at by politicians, environmentalists and those in the power
industry on both sides of the border. The Ontario government-owned
Hydro emitted four times the U.S. legal limit of 1.5 pounds per
hour in 1998. In fact Ontario Hydro was forced to buy electricity from
AEP because it had reached its legally allowed emissions for the year.
Ontario Energy Minister Jim Wilson expects Ontario Hydro's emissions to
be worse in 1999. He recently approved measures to increase Hydro
by 50%. AEP has to pollute Ontario's air just to produce the
that Premier Harris buys.
The Harris government's other example of environmental
the much publicized Drive Clean program. It was delayed for a few years
but finally began in April just in time for an election call by Harris.
However the program only applies to Toronto and Hamilton at present.
Environment Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) in her 1998 annual report
that the Drive Clean program will reduce "only a small amount of the
agents emitted by vehicles" and only if "identified weaknesses in the
The Government of Canada has the influence and the tools
air quality but it too lacks the will to act. The Federal government
to update the Canadian Environmental Protection Act six years ago but
bowed to pressure from major polluters when they introduced the new
Christine Stewart, the federal Minister of Environment claimed "the
of the legislation is to protect environment and health. The object is
not to put people out of business," admitting that the government
death as a by-product of business. In addition the federal government
$234 million dollars (about one-third) from the Ministry of
In his May 1998 annual report, the federal Commissioner
and Sustainable development, Brian Emmett condemned the government of
for its failure to protect the environment. He noted that the
is not keeping its promises and that “vision and leadership are two
ingredients for tackling environmental challenges.” Unfortunately
these ingredients are lacking all levels of our government.
The City of Toronto generally points to other
problems but it must accept part of the responsibility. The city could
have a major impact on how its residents use their motor vehicles yet
does little. Because of the province's cut backs, the Toronto transit
is need of new funding. The Mayor of Toronto recently campaigned very
for an increase in transit fares as the solution. The Toronto Transit
(TTC) is the least subsidized system in North America. Users pay a
share of the cost. However the new fare increase will result in
ridership and increased pollution by motor vehicles. The THC3 finds the
Mayor's position to be hypocritical and cowardly. The use of motor
is the most heavily subsidized means of transportation yet Mayor
failed to support a more user pay system for cars.
Toronto must implement user fees for major expressways
directed toward funding the TTC. Car usage is the most serious
problem because it is so inexpensive and subsidized by property taxes.
User fees would steer some drivers to transit making the system more
secure and improving the air quality at the same time.
Making less space available for parking will also affect
drive. Toronto is filled with parking lots. It is disheartening to
watch classic architecture demolished in favour of new parking lots.
parking spaces would mean a greater cost to park that would encourage
to choose other transportation options.
Although government has failed in its responsibilities
air, it does not relieve industry from its own responsibility. Even
oil companies are legally permitted to produce gasoline with a sulphur
level of 579 ppm, scientific evidence proves that this level is not
enough to protect us. Oil companies bear a moral obligation to produce
a safe product. The THC3 is convinced that this obligation would be
in the courts, leaving oil companies to pay for the damages caused by
Automobile manufacturers also have a moral obligation.
systems have improved they break down. Automobile manufacturer's are
that car usage and dependence is the most serious pollution problem in
urban environments yet they promote policies that make other modes of
less effective. The Consumer Response Council recently handed down a
that resulted in General Motors pulling a TV ad that was deemed to be
demeaning... derogatory portrayal" of an identifiable group. GM
to "lunatic couriers" in the ad . Automobile manufacturers flood urban
environments with more cars than is safe. The auto industry knows that
the sheer volume of the cars in urban areas means that the air will not
be safe for vulnerable groups such as bike couriers. These "negligent
practices" cannot be tolerated. The THC3 believes that auto industry
be held accountable for the damage that their products cause when the
of those products are merely using them in the way that the
encourage them to be used.
10. CONCLUSIONS AND
The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition recognizes
is a complex problem that requires many groups working together to find
long term solutions. Furthermore all levels of government must
their missing leadership and vision in dealing with these problems. The
caretakers or Ontario’s air have been reckless and negligent with this
vital resource. Air pollution is a health crisis for all of Ontario
has serious implications for the environmental, health care and
systems in the province. Failure to act quickly to protect the health
Ontarians will expose our governments, corporations and economy to
financial risk from extraordinary lawsuits and increased expenditures.
Our governments must move away from voluntary measures on air pollutant
emissions toward a system of standards with strict enforcement.
Credit rating institutions should consider government
“health debt” and “environmental debt” as these debts represent a
risk to investors that must be considered. Exposure to possible
as a result of government and corporate environmental records must also
The last few years has seen study after study point to
of smog and health yet all levels of government find it easier to do
than to act on overwhelming evidence. As our population ages it becomes
more vulnerable to the health effects of smog and more studies will
an increase in both mortality and morbidity due to air quality. One of
the key findings by The Ontario Medical Association in its recent
report is that this health crisis is “preventable.”
More information about air quality must reach the
stations and more accurate monitoring stations are needed. Environment
Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and media outlets must
develop and publicize accurate and meaningful “Smog Forecasts” so that
Ontarians may be informed of air quality.
Every year asthma in children increases, new and
our lungs and every year our lungs are exposed to more toxins in the
Our lungs’ ability to fight these risks is diminishing at a time when
evidence points to unsafe air quality guidelines.
For bicycle couriers the crisis is more extreme. Our
and excessive. New evidence confirms that diesel exhaust causes lung
and the street canyons where messengers work are the most dangerous
Yet Toronto has done nothing to protect messengers’ lungs from lung
The THC3 urges Toronto to ban large diesel vehicles from these street
downtown on weekdays.
Both the Toronto City Council and the government of
to end subsidies to motor vehicle transportation. Large and small motor
vehicle users must pay a more realistic share of their full costs. User
fees or road pricing must be used to pay for the “capital, operations
maintenance costs of road infrastructure, including bridges, tunnels,
restricted access highways.” These fees should also cover the
costs of the roads including emissions, accidents and congestion. For
reason the provincial government must allocate a portion of the
tax collected in Toronto to public transit.
The Government of Ontario must begin to listen to its
Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition recommends that the Government of
implement the recommendations from the Ontario Medical Association
Paper on Ground Level Ozone:
1. More stringent sulphur and nitrogen oxide
should be enacted, including a province-wide SO2 reduction of 75 per
from current cap levels, and a maximum allowable NOx emission limit of
6,000 tonnes annually from Ontario Hydro.
Until our governments find the courage to lead, the THC3 urges all
couriers in the province to visit the hospital emergency departments at
the slightest sign of breathing difficulty. On AQA days it is
that all couriers go to emergency for treatment. Couriers should also
emergency staff to do thorough exams as damage to the lungs occurs even
when no symptoms are present.
2. New transportation sector emission limits should
standards for light and heavy-duty vehicles, reductions from off-road
an expanded vehicle inspection and maintenance program, and tougher
for sulphur-in-fuel content.
3. The USEPA Administrator should be petitioned under
Section 115 of
the U.S. Clean Air Act to require reductions in U.S. emissions of SO2
NOx which damage the health of Canadian residents and their
4. Physicians should advise patients about the risks
should support more health effects research on air pollution, and
advocate the development of air pollution-related health education
Messengers should keep a detailed record of their health
of smog upon it. Future lawsuits will require good evidence to ensure
couriers are adequately compensated not only for damages incurred but
for the unacceptable risk to which industry and government exposed
The THC3 recommends that government and private health
bicycle messengers in a personal exposure to pollution study.
gathered from such a study would not only benefit bike couriers but
all Ontarians. It is expected that the data would shed light on
new dangers chronic exposure to various pollutants hold. Messengers are
a diverse group with varied levels of time in the profession. We
many different lifestyle choices with some varying levels of
All groups at risk must work together to document and
so that future lawsuits may be undertaken to recover those damages from
the major polluters and reckless legislators.
The Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto have
bike couriers the “canaries in a coal mine” concerning smog. The
exposure to damages caused by these policies are intolerable and have
taxpayers vulnerable to class action lawsuits in the future, unless
act quickly to remedy the situation. We look forward to sincere
by all levels of government to address this crisis.
TORONTO HOOF AND CYCLE COURIER COALITION