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Heavy trucks drive along a trucking corridor that runs through downtown Ottawa.

Photo by Zoryana Cherwick

In progress

Tackling the health impacts of trucking pollution in Ottawa’s downtown core

June 16, 2023

Every day, about 2,500 heavy trucks pass through the heart of downtown Ottawa following an interprovincial route that connects Highway 417 in Ottawa and Highways 5/50 in Gatineau via the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. Air pollution levels along the trucking corridor far exceed the levels recommended by the World Health Organization, posing an alarming health risk to those who live, work, and play in the downtown core.

The trucking route runs through a densely populated neighborhood, home to thousands of residents and hundreds of local businesses. Heavy vehicles pass beside a daycare centre with an outdoor play area, social housing, and three homeless shelters where people congregate at street level for hours every day. This means some of Ottawa’s most vulnerable communities are the most heavily affected by pollution from the trucks.

Air pollution is recognized globally as a major health risk. In Canada, about 15,000 people die prematurely from air pollution every year, with approximately 6,600 deaths in Ontario alone. Traffic-related air pollution can cause serious health damage, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, reduced lung function, impaired lung development in children, pre-term and low-birthweight infants, childhood leukemia, and premature death. Large diesel trucks, including many that use the downtown trucking route, are the worst pollution offenders and older large trucks are the worst of the worst.

Over the past five decades, multiple different attempts at solving the problem have been tried and failed to yield results. In January 2023, Ecojustice sent an open letter on behalf of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and Friends of the Earth Canada, to Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe demanding that he take urgent action to clean up air quality in the City’s downtown.

The following month, a group of physicians, represented by Ecojustice, filed a complaint under section 11 of Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA). Doctors from CAPE are asking the province’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, to investigate the social and health harms caused by trucking pollution in downtown Ottawa.

The City of Ottawa’s traffic by-law directs heavy truck traffic through its downtown core; this approach is not only unsustainable, it’s unlawful.

We know that traffic-related air pollution, especially diesel emissions, pose serious health consequences. Research conducted by Sierra Club of Canada and Ecology Ottawa in their “Breathe Easy” project, found air quality along the route was unhealthy, exceeding both national and international standards. Vulnerable populations that reside along the trucking route face the direst consequences from increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution.

Re-routing polluting heavy trucks off the streets of downtown Ottawa is an important matter of public health and equity. By allowing heavy trucks in Ottawa’s densely packed downtown core and exposing vulnerable communities to the worst of the pollution, the City of Ottawa is in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter-protected right to life, security of the person and equality.

The City of Ottawa must act urgently to enact policies that prioritize air quality and the health of people. These solutions should include more effective monitoring of toxics exposures and decreasing truck traffic in the City’s urban centre.

Jul 2023
Heavy trucks drive along a trucking corridor that runs through downtown Ottawa.
press release

Feds could save thousands of lives by cleaning up dirty truck pollution 

Doctors and environmental groups urge federal government to act on truck pollution    OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE – Smoke from wildfires is not the only source of air pollution threatening the health of Canadians.
Feb 2023
Heavy trucks drive along a trucking corridor that runs through downtown Ottawa.
press release

Doctors call for investigation into truck pollution in downtown Ottawa

Group files complaint alleging trucking corridor hazardous to health   OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE – A group of Ontario physicians is calling for an investigation into a major interprovincial trucking corridor through downtown Ottawa, citing concerns about air pollution and its impact on public health.