Commuter Air Pollutants Are Harming Your Health

Commuter air pollutants harm more than just our planet.

The Problem Commuting

When people discuss climate change, one of the main sectors we point our fingers at is transportation. This comes with good reason as it accounts for nearly 20% of our emissions. But CO2 is only one of the many commuter air pollutants that link our health to climate health.

The murky view from Shanghai's Huangpu District, China.
The murky view from Shanghai’s Huangpu District, China [image: Canva].

Pollutant Soup

I once read of vehicle emissions referred to as a “soup of pollutants.” I think this is a great (and awful) analogy to help us picture something we can’t actually see.

The forefront of these hazardous substances includes: particulate matter, VOCs, nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, black carbons, and heavy metals. VOCs and NOx are particularly concerning because they lead to ground-level ozone. In Canada, approximately 21% of NOx & 51% of VOCs are due to personal vehicle emissions.

risky business gif.

Risks To Your Health

You don’t have to dig deep to find the overwhelming links between commuter air pollutants and human health. Unsurprisingly, risks of respiratory conditions such as asthma, cancer, and heart attacks increase with exposure.

One study attributed 3000 premature deaths across 83 U.S. cities to traffic congestion alone. The related health care costs were $31 billion dollars, an external cost rarely considered when making development decisions. And that’s just from our traffic congestion! Once you include industrial pollution and all the wildfires, then we’re really talking about breathing in the pollution soup. 😦

Air Quality Map from July 2021 measuring the smoke from all the wildfires [image: NOAA Global Systems Laboratory].

The Smog Cloud’s Silver Lining

There is however light at the end of the smoke tunnel. As much as we depend on commuting, these past two years have taught us that we have the ability to adapt. With more people working from home, urban areas around the world have seen decreases in commuter air pollution.

This CBC article reports on the visible reductions of NO2 since the pandemic. It looks at four major Canadian cities and the impact is apparent. You can clearly see how shifting our driving habits can help create cleaner urban environments.

keep it real, with the green new deal

Make The Change

So please, don’t let these invisible pollutants go unnoticed. We need to make a conscious effort in our personal lives and to support government plans that improve public transportation. Say no to commuter air pollutants for you, and your planet. Instead, consider alternatives that can help reduce commuter air pollutants. For instance:

  • Carpool or Ride-share
  • Opt for EVs & fuel efficient cars
  • Organize a “Bike to Work” day at your office
  • Promote flexible working hours and location
  • Walk, bike, take a bus/train/streetcar

And remember to encourage an end to idling. Despite it being against the law here in Toronto, there are way too many people running their car while smoking, napping, browsing their smartphones or eating takeout. Do what you have to do, but if you’re not driving (or heating up your car in extreme cold), it really shouldn’t be spewing out all those harmful pollutants for nothing.

no idling your vehicle.
Not only is it gross and absolutely harmful to our health, it’s very often illegal.

Clearing The Air

Despite learning more about the horrors of air pollution, I am still optimistic. We can totally change our habits once we realize what’s at stake! It’s not too late to do better, and together we can influence even wider change!💪


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