Air pollution got some special attention in the Toronto Star last week, featuring a unique study carried out by the University of Toronto.
Professor Greg Evans led the research team that produced an impressive map highlighting Toronto’s air pollution hot spots. The team of researchers, alongside scientists from Environment Canada, used hand-held devices and a mobile vehicle lab to record ultrafine particle concentrations all over the city.
The results from the map present an intense array of colours across the city, showing that Toronto’s residents could be experiencing vastly different exposures to air pollution from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. One thing in particular stands out. The higher the traffic an area experiences, the higher the air pollution concentrations tend to be. Ultrafine particles (UFP) were concentrated along major highways and intersections.
Just what are these 'ultrafine particles' and why should we care about them? These particles are nano-sized, meaning they are able to get deep into the lungs as we breathe. Once in the lungs, the particles can produce acute respiratory effects, particularly in sensitive populations such as children and the elderly as well as those with asthma. Exposure to ultrafine particles has also been linked to various cardiovascular effects.
So clearly we should be limiting our exposure to air pollution as much as possible, but what else can be done? Well, the INHALE Project is also collecting air quality data in the city, with a pilot study underway in the Mimico and New Toronto neighbourhoods using portable particulate monitoring equipment. Except participating in this project are everyday citizens and community members, no science-degrees necessary! Collecting this air quality data can help us in the short-term with planning our outdoor activities a little better based on where air pollution levels may be lower. But also, this data can help inspire us to think of long-term solutions for local improvements to the air we breathe!
Sound like something you’re interested in? Then stay tuned for INHALE Toronto events or sign up to volunteer as a Community Air Tracker and participate in this project with your fellow community members!