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. According to Health Canada, diesel emissions in major cities and along transportation corridors are a major health threat to Canadians. Doctors and environment groups are calling for federal action on truck pollution, saying the government could save thousands of lives by closing federal loopholes for highly polluting heavy trucks.
Canadian Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and Friends of the Earth Canada, represented by Ecojustice, have petitioned the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to investigate what the federal government is doing to curb diesel emissions. The request was made under section 22 of the Auditor General Act.
Traffic-related air pollution near roadways is known to 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 are the worst offenders of vehicle emissions pollution, with older trucks being the worst offenders.
Older heavy trucks do not have to comply with updated federal vehicle emissions standards which only apply to truck model years 2007 and newer. This results in unsafe levels of diesel emissions in communities where there is heavy truck traffic — it is estimated that older heavy trucks can emit up to ten times the pollution than their newer counterparts.
The groups say that clean air is a human right, and the government has a duty to implement the many solutions it has at hand to reduce truck-related pollution and clean up air quality in Canadian communities.
Lynda Collins, lawyer with the Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Ottawa, said:
“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.
“The federal government has the power to take the necessary steps to reduce one of the most dangerous, and preventable, kinds of air pollution. While wildfire smoke continues to create air quality concerns across the country, we’re urging the government to step up and take urgent action to help Canadians breathe easier from reduced heavy truck emissions.”
Dr. Mili Roy, Regional Co-Chair, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Ontario Committee, said:
“Pollution from heavy trucks is linked to many serious diseases from asthma, heart attacks, and multiple cancers, to premature deaths. While we are all at risk, the most vulnerable and socioeconomically disadvantaged persons in our communities are also the most impacted by these harms.
“Getting heavy polluting trucks off the road is an urgent priority for public health and equity for Canadians. We call on the federal government to act immediately to reduce pollution from heavy trucks, with the combined benefit of reducing fossil fuel driven climate change, the greatest public health crisis we face.”
Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth Canada said:
“Diesel emissions from heavy trucks are considered the most hazardous pollution of vehicle emissions, putting the health of Canadians at risk. This petition is our first step in convincing the federal government to take action on polluting diesel trucks!”
“By filing this petition, we have a guarantee that federal ministers will have to reveal what they know about the health impacts of heavy truck emissions and what actions have been considered. Of course, we want them to actually take action including providing funds to help municipalities take action like hundreds of cities around the world are doing.”
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). They called on the province’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, to investigate the social and health harms caused by trucking pollution in downtown Ottawa.