A study by researchers from the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health has found that at least 21,000 Canadians die each year due to air pollution.
In their study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), authors Michael Brauer, Conor Reynolds and Perry Hystad said air pollution-related cases were the basic reason why one third of the country's 10 million Canadians die annually, such as asthma, heart disease and pneumonia, among others.
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"If you add up the fact that a third of the population is exposed, then on a population basis it becomes very important," Michael Brauer, an environmental health specialist at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study, said.
These people's exposure to the country's worst levels of traffic pollution were likewise linked to premature birth and low-birth weight infants.
The Canadians most at risk to air pollution-related health hazards were those living within 100 metres of major urban roads or half a kilometre of major highways like the 401.
Air pollution triggers "inflammation, oxidative stress and imbalance in the autonomic nervous system" which includes heart rhythm disturbances, the CMAJ report said.
Based on a 2008 federal report, at least 306 premature deaths occurred in B.C. that is being linked to air pollution, 1,158 hospital admissions and 8,763 emergency department visits.
"Those are all pretty big deals, so things like lung cancer and heart disease are important killers in Canada," Michael Brauer, an environmental health specialist at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study, said.
"And we know that if children are born prematurely or at low birth weight, that could have implications throughout their lives, so it puts them at risk for a lot of other potential health outcomes," he said. "And asthma is for children, especially, a very important chronic disease."
Mr Brauer believed the scenario, albeit difficult, could still be very well corrected.
"It's time we got serious about traffic-related air pollution," he said. "Our lives will benefit."
Among the suggestions the study listed were:
- Reduce vehicle emissions by removing or retrofitting high-emission vehicles, reducing traffic congestion and encouraging use of electric cars.
- Modify current infrastructure so that heavy truck traffic and daily commuter traffic are separated from bike and walking routes.
- Incorporate better land-use and traffic planning so that schools, daycares and retirement homes are located far away from heavy traffic.
- Encourage alternative commuting behaviours to reduce traffic congestion.
"It's much more effective to remove these risks than it is to treat 10 million people."
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