Each year, roughly 15,000 people die prematurely in Canada because of air pollution, and now climate advocacy organizations are pressuring the federal environment watchdog to investigate what the government is doing about it.
Canadians have a right to breathe clean air, and the federal government should take stronger action to curb diesel pollution from heavy trucks, Canadian Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and Friends of the Earth Canada, represented by Ecojustice, wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development Jerry DeMarco.
“Pollution from heavy trucks is linked to many serious diseases, from asthma, heart attacks and multiple cancers to premature deaths,” said CAPE Ontario region co-chair Dr. Mili Roy in a statement. “While we are all at risk, the most vulnerable and socioeconomically disadvantaged persons in our communities are also the most impacted by these harms.”
Specifically, the letter is aiming at closing a federal “loophole” for vehicle emissions standards that only applies to vehicles made in 2007 and newer. It’s a major issue, Ecojustice argues, because older Canadian heavy-duty trucks excluded from the emissions standards are allowed to emit ten times more pollution than those under the regulations, and plenty of them are still on the roads.
The letter also calls for the federal government to set up a national near-road air-quality monitoring network to better guide policy on air pollution; provide financial, legal and technical help to cities to establish clean air zones; and provide new grants and tax incentives to retrofit older, heavy-polluting trucks.
Health Canada estimates traffic-related air pollution specifically was responsible for over 1,200 premature deaths in Canada in 2015, with 2.7 million people experiencing “non-fatal health outcomes” due to the pollution. Of the premature deaths, 500 were estimated in Ontario, 410 in Quebec, 170 in British Columbia and 82 in Alberta.
Beyond the pain and suffering related to worsening quality of life and premature death, Health Canada estimates traffic-related air pollution represents a $9.5-billion burden on the country’s health-care system, with $9 billion of that total associated with premature death.
Clean air is a human right because it’s “essential to life, health, dignity and well-being,” according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the letter explains. It goes on to note that Health Canada acknowledges air pollution “represents the largest environmental risk to health.”
“The federal government has the power to take the necessary steps to reduce one of the most dangerous, and preventable, kinds of air pollution,” said Ecojustice lawyer Lynda Collins in a statement. “While wildfire smoke continues to create air-quality concerns across the country, we’re urging the government to step up and take urgent action to help Canadians breathe easier from reduced heavy truck emissions.”
Roughly 15,000 people die prematurely in Canada because of air pollution each year, and now @ecojustice_ca, @CAPE_ACME and @FoE_Canada are pressuring the federal environment watchdog to investigate what the government is doing about it. #cdnpoli
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the most recent air pollution emissions data is from 2020 and 2021, which were both defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. For virtually all pollutants, lower levels were observed because fewer vehicles were on the roads compared to 2019.