Your daily commute just got a whole lot worse.
The increased risk of mortality due to exposure to air pollution along Hamilton’s highways and arterial roads is 12 per cent- the highest of the areas measured in the city- according to a recently completed report on air quality.
In a study conducted by Clean Air Hamilton, it was found that the volume and concentration of commuter traffic and diesel-powered transport trucks on the QEW/403 produces a toxic cocktail of emissions that can have significant impact on cardiovascular and respiratory health.
"I always tell people to turn on the air circulation system in their car when they’re on the highway because the concentration of pollutants is so high," said the report’s author, Denis Corr, an expert in air pollution and an advocate for greater awareness of air quality issues.
Corr said that the 12 per cent mortality risk figure derives from levels of pollutants in air samples taken from various points along the QEW/403 corridor, as opposed to the amount of time a person spends driving.
"Obviously the more time spent in the car, however, the more dangerous those pollutants become," he added.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t even need to be driving on the highway to be affected- being within 200 metres of arterial roads and major highways drastically increase exposure to pollutants, according to Clean Air Hamilton’s 2012 Air Quality Progress Report.
"Even though air quality has improved dramatically in Hamilton over the past ten, 15, 20 years, there’s still a real mortality risk from existing air pollution," said Corr.
That mortality risk is significantly dependent upon where in the city you live, according to the report.
In addition to highways, the study looked at 11 neighbourhoods in Hamilton to measure the increase in mortality risk due to air pollution. It found that the average increase- not including the highway and it’s 12 per cent increase- was 4.6 per cent.
Notably, air pollution impacted each of the 11 communities, though it impacted some much more than others.
In Dundas, for example, the increased risk is only 2.5 per cent, the lowest neighbourhood among those sampled; whereas in the Jones Rd./Arvin Ave. area, the risk jumps to 7.7 per cent.
The other neighbourhoods included in the study in which the risk of mortality is higher than the city average are the McAnulty Blvd. area, North West End, Eastport Dr. and Wentworth North. The neighbourhoods with lower than average risks of mortality are the Limeridge Mall area, Delta, the Mountain near the escarpment, Red Hill neighbourhood and central downtown.
The study states that there are approximately 4000 deaths by all causes in Hamilton per year , and the 4.6 per cent increased mortality risk due to air pollution translates into 184 of them.
"If these deaths were caused by cholera or SARS or some other outbreak of infectious disease, there would be very widespread concern about it. But this is like the invisible problem. It’s not something that you want to think about, but that’s why we need to keep pushing and keep it in the public and improve air quality as best we can," said Corr.
The study was conducted via a mobile air-monitoring unit. A van was outfitted with air monitoring equipment and driven throughout various areas in Hamilton. The van collected air quality data at various locations within a particular neighbourhood, and used those data to determine that neighbourhood’s air quality level.