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Porter’s corporate interests can’t be allowed to trump public health

November 23, 2013

Get set for takeoff as the debate begins again on the plan to fly jets in and out of downtown Toronto. Mayoral crisis notwithstanding, come December 5, city staff are slated to present their report to the executive committee on Porter’s proposal for Island Airport expansion.

While supporters of the plan point to the convenience of the new routes, we as community health physicians are struck by more ominous repercussions.

We would remind councillors that jet fuel exhaust is a toxic soup of chemicals including black carbon, ultra-fine particulate matter (UPM) and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Black carbon has been associated with increased rates of lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, heart disease, sudden death and cancer. And elevated exposure to UPM is linked to inflammation of blood vessels and lung tissue. PAHs have been associated with increased cancer risk, disruptions in blood hormone levels, reproductive abnormalities in pregnant women and lower IQ scores in children.

A 2010 study probing the health of children living near the Santa Monica airport concluded that the high levels of all these chemicals were associated with high incidence of all the above.

We are concerned that it will be the children who live, study and play less than 300 metres from the current airport in the high-rises, the Waterfront school, Little Norway Park, the daycare and community centre who will be most affected by the addition of jets. Consider that landings and takeoffs generate the highest emissions and that peak airport periods coincide with times children walk to and from school. This in a neighbourhood already dealing with pollution from the Gardiner Expressway and existing air traffic.

In 2011, the Toronto Board of Health requested that the city examine air quality and emissions in southeast Toronto and concluded that pollution has filled our air-shed beyond Health Canada’s safe thresholds. It doesn’t matter that the city’s hired consultants, Airbiz, say the new jets, which spew more toxins than the current propeller planes, meet “most international emission standards.” That seems the best we can hope for, but it’s not good enough. We can’t tolerate further pollution.

Then there’s the traffic congestion, already problematic at Bathurst Quay, which will worsen with increased air traffic. Imagine the effect on air quality of hundreds more passengers arriving and departing every day at the corner of Bathurst and Queens Quay. Not to mention the increased number of maintenance vehicles, including many more trucks transporting jet fuel.

The interests of corporations cannot be allowed to trump public health and safety. Pressure council to say no to jets.

Miriam Garfinkle, Susan Woolhouse

Miriam Garfinkle and Susan Woolhouse are family physicians.

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