This text is taken from the Courrier de la Planète of June 21. Click here to subscribe.
“The problem with air pollution is that it’s sneaky. In his family medicine practice, Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers very rarely hears patients worry about the effects of air pollution on their health. Yet the toxic particles floating around all of us pose considerable dangers.
“It’s a very important but silent problem, which we don’t talk about regularly, and over which I have very little leverage as a doctor in my clinic”, says the one who, in addition to working at the CLSC d’Hochelaga- Maisonneuve, in Montreal, is president of the Quebec Association of Physicians for the Environment (AQME).
To equip physicians and decision-makers, a Canadian group of which AQME is a member recently carried out a major review of the scientific literature on the health impacts of air pollution linked to automobile traffic.
From the thousand scientific articles examined by the authors of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (ACME), disturbing findings emerge. These hazards affect a large proportion of the population — one in three Canadians lives within 250 m of a main road.
Here is a selection of studies cited in the report:
- In Beijing, adults who live within 100 m of a major road are about 2.5 times more likely to suffer from chronic cough than those who live more than 200 m.
- In Poland, children who live in areas with high car traffic are about twice as likely to suffer from asthma as those who live elsewhere.
- In Tasmania, adults living within 200m of a main road are around five times more likely to be diagnosed with persistent asthma than those living elsewhere.
- In Estonia, the prevalence of heart disease is about twice as high among people who live within 150 m of a main road as among those who live further away.
- In Ontario, a statistically significant increase in dementia cases has been found among people who live within 300 m of a major road.
- In Sweden, long-term exposure to diesel engine exhaust in the context of work has been associated with an approximately 66% higher risk of developing lung cancer.
- In California, exposure of pregnant women to certain air pollutants typical of road transport has been associated with an increase of approximately 20% in the risk of premature birth.
How can we explain that air pollution can harm human health in this way? The main hypothesis, explains Dr. Pétrin-Desrosiers, is based on inflammation.
“These substances first create inflammation in the lungs,” she says. But once it’s in the blood, it goes everywhere in the body: the heart, the kidneys, the brain, the reproductive system. It is harmful to all organs of the body, at all stages of life. »
Cumulatively, these affronts to the human body reduce life expectancy in those most at risk. Health Canada estimates that air pollution causes 15,000 premature deaths each year.
To improve the situation, the ACME authors make some recommendations based on the results of their research. They mention in particular the reduction in the use of gasoline-powered vehicles, the filtering of indoor air and the greening of cities.
Dr. Pétrin-Desrosiers hopes that by implementing these solutions—some short-term, some long-term—her patients who live near Notre-Dame Street, a very busy highway in eastern Montreal, will do a little better.