Environmental Defence and the Ontario Public Health Association release a new report showing the health benefits of cleaner vehicles in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

Toronto, Ont. – Today, on Clean Air Day, there’s new evidence that cleaner vehicles like electric cars and buses will improve health in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area by reducing air pollution. Cleaner vehicles across the region will also cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The report Clearing the Air: How electric vehicles and cleaner trucks can reduce pollution, improve health and save lives in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is the result of a unique collaboration between the University of Toronto’s Transportation and Air Quality Research Group, the Ontario Public Health Association, and Environmental Defence. Our modelling shows how shifting to electric vehicles and cleaner, newer trucks could save hundreds of lives every year, cut almost 70 per cent of the GTHA’s greenhouse gas emissions from traffic, and lead to billions of dollars in social benefits.

“Exposure to traffic-related air pollution is a serious public health concern, responsible for hundreds of premature deaths every year in the GTHA and contributing to respiratory illness such as asthma, cardiovascular conditions and lung cancer,” said Helen Doyle, Environmental Health Workgroup Chair with the Ontario Public Health Association. “While everyone can be affected by air pollution, older adults, young children, people with underlying medical conditions, those living close to busy roads and people facing socio-economic barriers are most at risk. Switching to electric vehicles and cleaner trucks will reduce this harmful pollution and, in combination with other active and sustainable transportation measures, is an important solution to this public health concern.”

Key findings from the modelling include:

  • A shift to electric cars and SUVs (EVs) will mean 313 fewer premature deaths per year while newer, cleaner trucks will mean 275 fewer premature deaths annually, and electrifying all public transit buses will mean 143 fewer premature deaths annually.
  • A single EV replacing a gas-powered car brings approximately $10,000 in social benefits, justifying strong government action to get more EVs on the road quickly.
  • Shifting to EVs, electric buses, and cleaner trucks in the GTHA would reduce approximately 8 mega tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year. This action alone would bring Ontario halfway to meeting its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“The evidence in this report makes a clear case for stronger government action to accelerate a shift to cleaner vehicles,” said Sarah Buchanan, Clean Economy Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “Strong policy tools to electrify vehicles and reduce pollution from trucks will save lives by improving respiratory and cardiovascular health, and reducing future climate-related health risks.”

The report recommends policies that governments at all levels can use to achieve these health and climate benefits. These policies range from strong regulatory actions like a national Zero Emission Vehicle sales mandate, to local government actions like electrifying public transit buses and introducing Low Emission Zones for trucks.

“This project shows the importance of modelling that quantifies the health and climate benefits of various transportation policies,” said Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou, Civil and Mineral Engineering, University of Toronto. “I hope that governments will consider the evidence from this report and start including both the impacts on public health and on greenhouse gas emissions when determining transportation policies and investments.”

The importance of improving air quality has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s emerging evidence suggesting that air pollution may be a key contributor to the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, which disproportionately impact those with pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease and respiratory diseases.

Reducing all vehicle emissions, including greenhouse gases, is critical to improving health now and preventing the worsening health impacts associated with climate change. Although air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have temporarily dropped along with traffic volumes during the COVID-19 crisis, we need permanent solutions that will outlast the current pandemic to protect our health now and in the future.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (www.environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

About the ONTARIO PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION (www.opha.on.ca): The Ontario Public Health Association’s mission is to provide leadership on issues affecting the public’s health and to strengthen the impact of people who are active in public and community health throughout Ontario.

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Allen Braude, Environmental Defence, abraude@environmentaldefence.ca,