As the city’s air pollution continued to climb this week, people across the city took to social media to share their experience of the consequences of breathing in the emissions and pollutants.
One such user is Natasha Martynuk, who started her own Facebook page, Chronic, chronic breathing sickness, to share her experiences of lung disease. In her most recent post, she brought up an important question. “What about the C2D air quality standards (COVID-19)?” she asked.
Story continues below Each day this week, The Washington Post is asking a question about air quality and illness.
Phil Rockstroh, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said in an email Thursday that Toronto’s requirements on air quality are based on COVID-19, which holds that coarse particles do not cause chronic disease.
The 2017 update to C2D is arguably the most comprehensive document on air quality and, as such, carries great meaning.
C2D, or Centralized Air Quality Modeling, has been the responsibility of the Environment Ministry in Ontario since 2008. Its primary aims are to improve transparency on the health impact of pollutants in Ontario, and to reduce air pollution through emission reductions. The document determines air quality standards for both indoor and outdoor air quality.
“The updated standard provides for both active and passive human exposure to air contaminants, and is a hallmark of Canada’s leadership role in measuring air quality so that society can make informed health decisions,” Rockstroh said.
According to Rockstroh, the current standard for all air contaminants, C2D, included “assessment of existing regulations,” specifically COVID-19. He added, “The updated C2D standard applies to indoor and outdoor particle concentrations for NOx, particulate matter and ground-level ozone.” (The Global Action Plan adopted by the Canadian government in 2016 sets stricter ozone emission targets, which should see the level of PM2.5 drop as the target date approaches in 2020. However, air quality experts, such as Chris Vernon, a respiratory health professor at the University of British Columbia, say that the new standards may actually have unintended consequences.)
The Public Health Agency of Canada standards for fine particulate matter are also based on COVID-19, which asks how much of the air is affected by particulate matter. Those standards are in effect through January 2021.
As COVID-19 has met federal requirements for more than a decade, Rockstroh said that Toronto’s C2D-19 standards were updated only in 2017.
“Anyone who’s been living in the city for the last couple of weeks knows the impact that these air quality conditions have on people,” Martynuk wrote in a recent Facebook post.
During this week’s increase in bad air, the city increased the amount of pollutant measurements it takes from October to December to approximately 200,000 measurements, up from roughly 150,000 in 2017. The air quality was only considered “unhealthy” after Nov. 12, and improved to “moderate” in early November. While other cities have found ways to change population flows, to actually reduce the number of people living in a bad air zone requires more control and machinery.
The Environment Ministry and Public Health Agency of Canada both recommend limiting activities outdoors that may aggravate conditions, such as outside activities during cool weather, and for people to avoid high-level exposure.