As I reported here recently, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, criticized the Metrolinx plans for substantial increased diesel train operation in the Weston corridor.
Subsequently, the MOH issued a revised critique in response to updated information from Metrolinx. In this, he retracted three claims made in his original letter:
- Unacceptable lukemia risks are no longer predicted.
- Although local concentrations of some contaminants are predicted to rise, the MOH no longer feels that Metrolinx is underestimating the local outcomes.
- Similarly, acute health risks are predicted to rise, but the increase is not underestimated my Metrolinx.
However, the MOH goes on to say:
Notwithstanding the above, I remain concerned about the air quality impacts and increased health risks predicted for the immediately adjacent communities as a result of the proposed diesel expansion.
In the “Information Clarification” Metrolinx has described potential air quality and health impact mitigation measures, including improvements to locomotive stock. While these mitigation measures would reduce emissions, it is not clear what level of reduction will be achieved in local ambient air concentrations of the respiratory irritants for which increased risk is predicted.
On its home page, Metrolinx lists the three bullets above, but without the qualification. Metrolinx goes on to claim that the MOH’s revised opinion includes:
As an alternative to electrification, other mitigation measures proposed by Metrolinx may, subject to demonstration, be acceptable.
In fact, Dr. McKeown’s letter actually says:
In its additional information Metrolinx also indicates that it is exploring alternatives to diesel train technology, including electrification. In my view, electrification is the option that most clearly addresses the air quality and health impacts predicted from the proposed project for populations adjacent to the line by ensuring that any emissions (due to electrical power generation) are regional in nature. Whether other measures proposed as part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy could reduce the predicted air quality and health impacts to an acceptable level remains to be demonstrated.
Metrolinx not only misrepresented the MOH’s position, but blanketed the Weston Corridor with flyer reiterating the claims made on their website.
Today, as part of the Clean Train Coalition‘s protest march, Dr. McKeown took the unusual step of attending a public rally. At that rally, he said:
What we know about air pollution in Toronto is that any proposal now should pass a very stringent test before it goes forward. This proposal has not passed that test in my view. The study, conducted by Metrolinx itself, indicates clearly that there will be impacts on air quality as well as health risks for those that live close to the line.
Additional information on the rally can be found at the Star’s website.
Metrolinx really needs to stop spinning this issue. They have created an electrification study, an advisory committee to recommend terms of reference for that study, and are about to have a “stakeholder consultation” where folks like me can contribute their input to the advisory committee. Electrification of the Lakeshore corridor is already part of the Premier’s announced plans for GO Transit.
Why is Metrolinx trying so desperately to win a battle between the community and the Minister of the Environment?