A trio of recently published studies from a team of University of Toronto engineers has found that air pollution could be spreading up to three times farther than thought – contributing to varying levels of air quality across cities. Past research on air pollution from vehicle tailpipes has shown poor air quality anywhere between 100 to 250 metres of major roadways. But in a paper published in the recent edition of the journal Atmospheric Pollution Research, U of T chemical engineer Greg Evans (ChemE) and his partners at Environment Canada have found that concentrations of pollutants from traffic are still double at a distance of 280 metres downwind from highway 400 north of Toronto. One in three Canadians, and half of all Torontonians, lives within 250 metres of at least one major roadway. These roads, says Evans, range from 10-lane highways to most four-lane streets with steady traffic. “We used to think that living near a major road meant that you lived near a lot of air pollution,” says Evans. “But what we’re finding is that it’s not that simple, someone living right on a major road in the suburbs may not be exposed to as much pollution as someone living downtown on a side street near many major roads.” In the same study, Evans demonstrated that for somebody living near multiple roads, they could be exposed to up to ten times more pollutants than if they didn’t live near any major roads. “It used to be that we measured air quality on a regional or city scale,” says Evans. “But now we’re starting to understand that we need to measure air quality on a more micro scale, especially around major roadways.” According to Health Canada, poor air quality from traffic pollution is associated with a number of health issues, such as asthma in children and other respiratory diseases, heart disease, cancer and increased rates of premature death in adults. The Canadian Medical Association attributes 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada to air pollution. A separate study published last month also linked traffic pollution to delayed cognitive development in children. Lab in a truck Throughout 2014, the research team travelled the streets of Toronto measuring vehicle emissions from a mobile lab that resembles a Canada Post mail truck. “One of the aspects of our work that’s unique is that we’re using real-time instruments to make measurements in seconds,” says Evans. “You have to do the measurements right there, right away, or the exhaust will be gone.” The team’s findings suggest that people living or spending time near major roadways could be exposed to elevated levels of a dangerous chemical brew of ultrafine particles, volatile organic compounds, black carbon and other pollutants. “The ultrafine particles are particularly troubling,” says Evans. “Because they are over 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, they have a greater ability to penetrate deeper within the lung and travel in the body.” On a typical summer day in Toronto, Evans’ instruments measure approximately 20,000 ultrafine particles in each cubic centimetre of air. This means that for every average breath, Torontonians are inhaling 10 million of these nano-sized particles. These numbers increases to 30,000 and 15 million in the winter, when there is more stagnant air and less evaporation of the compounds. 25% of cars causing 90% of pollution A second paper by Evans and colleagues, published in the March 2015 edition of the journal Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, suggests that a small number of older or “badly-tuned” cars and trucks produce the majority of vehicle pollution. The study made on-the-spot measurements of 100,000 vehicles as they drove past air-sampling probes of the main laboratory on College Street, one of Toronto’s many major roadways. Evans and team found that one-quarter of the vehicles on the road produced:
  • 95% of black carbon (or “soot”),
  • 93% of carbon monoxide, and
  • 76% of volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, some of which are known-carcinogens
“The most surprising thing we found was how broad the range of emissions was,” says Evans. “As we looked at the exhaust coming out of individual vehicles, we saw so many variations. How you drive, hard acceleration, age of the vehicle, how the car is maintained – these are things we can influence that can all have an effect on pollution.” A vehicle emissions map of Toronto A third paper, due out in the June 2015 edition of the journal Atmospheric Environment, looks at variations in traffic pollution throughout Toronto, evaluating how exposure to largely unexplored, unregulated ultrafine particles varies across the city. View map here. Evans is currently working with Environment Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and Metro Vancouver to design, test and install new air quality measurement stations around the cities of Toronto and Vancouver. These stations will support enhanced monitoring of the air quality health index during this summer’s Pan Am games in Toronto. More broadly, this research will provide a basis for future near road air quality monitoring in cities across Canada so as to get a more accurate portrayal of the exposure of Canadians to traffic pollution. Evans and team hope that their research may someday lead to policy changes that could help better target the small number of vehicles that pollute the most, as well as to better decide where to build schools, hospitals, daycares, seniors residences and other structures to protect people who are especially vulnerable to air pollution.

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For more information: RJ Taylor Media Relations Strategist Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering 416-978-4498 rj.taylor@utoronto.ca

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Below is a selection of recent press releases. For all the latest news please visit www.utoronto.ca/news

December 11, 2017

Ontario Should Revise Discriminatory Policy Against Refugee Drivers

Toronto, ON – Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation should revise its policy and allow experienced drivers from war-torn countries to skip the one-year waiting period before their final driving tests - an exemption available to other newcomers in Ontario as well as refugees in other provinces, the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law (IHRP) said today. Under the current policy, the Government of Ontario is discriminating against refugees from Syria and other conflict zones by effectively…

December 6, 2017

Team of Rotman Evening MBA Students Advances to Regional Finals for the Hult Prize

Toronto, ON – A team of students from the Evening MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management have won the UofT quarterfinal qualifying round to advance to the regional finals of the Hult Prize, the world’s largest student competition for social entrepreneurs. Purifire, consisting of Daniel Weng, Andrea Lo, Nirusan Rajakulendran, and Michael Bosompra, all from the Rotman MBA Class of 2020, will advance to the regional finals to be held in March 2018. The goal…

November 21, 2017

New Financial Innovation Hub Established at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management

Toronto, ON – A new partnership has been launched at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to promote and develop initiatives for students and faculty in the area of financial innovation across all of the school’s programs. The Rotman Financial Innovation Hub in Advanced Analytics (Rotman FinHub) will create new classes and learning opportunities for students in financial innovation including machine learning and blockchain in the school’s MBA, Master of Finance, and Master of Financial Risk Management programs…

November 20, 2017

Rotman MBAS Win International Private Equity Competition

Toronto, ON – For the second week in a row a team of Full Time MBA students from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management have won a prestigious international competition. On Saturday, the Rotman students won the Rotterdam School of Management Private Equity Competition in Amsterdam defeating teams from INSEAD, IESE and Georgetown University in the final round. This year, the case involved candidates in a live transaction, centered around a 91-year old Dutch retailer, HEMA, where the private…

November 17, 2017

U of T celebrates the opening of One Spadina Crescent

Toronto, ON – Today, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design celebrated the official opening of its new home — the Daniels Building — at historic One Spadina Crescent. Located on the western edge of the University of Toronto’s St. George campus just north of College Street, the iconic neo-gothic building and stunning contemporary addition, currently nearing completion, is now poised to become an international focal point for education, research, and outreach on architecture, art, and the…

November 14, 2017

Rotman School Professor and Former Dean Named as Most Influential Management Thinker in the World

Toronto, ON – A professor and former Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management was named as the number one management thinker in the world by Thinkers50, the premier ranking of global business thinkers. Prof. Roger Martin, the former Dean of the Rotman School from 1998 to 2012, received the honour during an awards gala in London, UK last night. A second Rotman faculty member, Prof. Richard Florida placed 19th on the list of the top fifty…

November 13, 2017

Rotman MBA Students Win Kellogg Business Design Challenge

Toronto, ON – A team of MBA students from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management have won the Kellogg Business Design Challenge hosted by the Kellogg School of Management’s Innovation and Design Association. The long-running competition, which invites students to apply design thinking to a real-world business challenge, was opened up to teams outside the Kellogg School for the first time this year. The Rotman team, Lorem Ipsum, consisting of Full Time MBA students Amarpreet Kaur, MBA’19; Fifile Nguyen, MBA’19,…

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U of T in the News

Toronto Life | January 5, 2017

I had to decide whether to take my academic career to Canada. Donald Trump made it an easy choice

Jerry Flores of UTM discusses what influenced his decision to come to U of T. Read more. 

New York Times | January 4, 2017

The strange origin of a manakin’s golden crown

Alfredo Barrera-Guzmán and Jason Weir of UTSC explain how certain birds diversified into several distinct species. Read more. 

The Globe and Mail | January 3, 2017

The school of hard Knox: A neglected Toronto architectural centrepiece gets its due

Richard Sommer, Dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, discusses his aspirations for One Spadina. Read more.