Less than a week after the World Health Organization declared air pollution a leading cause of cancer, three UBC researchers have brought that home by showing how nearly one third of all Canadians are at risk of an early death due to exposure to traffic pollution.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, roughly 21,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of repeated exposure to air pollution. This is in addition to the 92,000 that visit an emergency room and 620,000 that end up in their doctor's office every year, all of which costs us around $8 billion annually.
Michael Brauer, Conor Reynolds and Perry Hystad, researchers from the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, study the effects of traffic pollution on public health. According to them, 10 million Canadians, nearly one third of the country's population, are exposed to the worst levels of traffic pollution due to living within half a kilometre of major highways like the 401, or within 100 metres of major urban roads.
"Traffic-related air pollution should be high on Canadian’s public health agenda," Brauer wrote in a UBC News article on Friday, outlining the four strategies that he, Reynolds and Hystad discuss in a commentary published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal today.
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• Reduce vehicle emissions by removing or retrofitting high-emission vehicles, reducing traffic congestion and encouraging use of electric cars.
• Modify current infrastructure so that heavy truck traffic and daily commuter traffic are separated from bike and walking routes.
• Incorporate better land-use and traffic planning so that schools, daycares and retirement homes are located far away from heavy traffic.
• Encourage alternative commuting behaviours to reduce traffic congestion.
"It's really a matter of changing our mindset," Brauer told CTV News in an interview from Vancouver. "We're very focused still on designing transportation all around cars and we probably should be designing transportation around people."
Apparently, around 200 cities in Europe have put traffic fees into effect, with London, England being the largest. According to Brauer, the congestion charge zone created in London forces drivers to pay an extra fee to enter. This extra fee resulted in less traffic and less traffic congestion, and "translated into a gain of 183 years of life per 100,000 residents within the zone over a 10-year period."
"It's time we got serious about traffic-related air pollution," he added. "Our lives will benefit."
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