Is fresh air in Toronto actually common?

by MackPaluck on October 7, 2016 - 4:26pm

Air pollution is one of the world’s largest climate issues, with health issues from it affecting or killing millions each year. Toronto, Canada’s largest city and one of the largest mega-cities in North America has had a terrible history with air pollution, stemming back in the early 1900’s where coal was a prominent energy source.

As Mitch Potter, the author of the article I chose to write about called ‘When fresh air was rare in Toronto: Fresh Air Fund’ explains how Toronto has really cleaned up its act and ensured a much safer and less polluted city. Potter describes how Toronto’s air was so bad back in the 1900’s that there were “documented accounts of the sulfuric downtown air actually eating through the nylons of working women”. Toronto’s air pollution was said to be at its very worst in the mid 1920’s where everything was powered with the use of coal, an extremely dirty energy source. Air pollution triggered getaways where kids would be funded to escape the dirty city and retreat to a summer camp up north. The article mentioned that Toronto was able to become a much less polluted city due to the industrial decline, and the replacement of coal by electricity.

Unfortunately, I feel that this article creates a false sense of reality. Comparing our current air pollution to the 1920’s is unfair as this was after all the age where industrialism was huge and coal was used everywhere. If you compare any major city in North America’s air pollution to that of the 1920’s you will see the exact same results. Toronto’s energy is not coal-based anymore but that does not mean that the air pollution levels are low or can be considered ‘safe’.

As someone who has lived in Toronto my entire life, I can say that the pollution here is something that must be considered an issue. This summer I saw my fair share of air quality statements, warning people to avoid being outside for long periods of time. I have witnessed first hand the absolutely horrific traffic which takes place in the downtown core. Toronto’s traffic is awful and traffic exhaust is the main source of all the polluted contaminants affecting the air. Results of a 2004 study done in Toronto examining air pollution showed showed that people who live near major roads had an increased risk of mortality and also showed that these same people lose about two and a half years of their life.

I believe that all levels of the government from municipal to federal must introduces ways to reduce air pollution. They can introduce substrative policy instruments – using incentives for people such as commuters to use different forms of transportation. They may also want to follow Europe’s steps and introduce things such as low-emission zones in certain parts of the city. These zones are areas where cars and other polluting vehicles are restricted to help improve air quality. Other things such as improving the under-developed public transit system would help encourage commuters to travel differently and in a more environmentally friendly way.

Although Toronto may not be surrounded by a nylon-eating black cloud anymore, fresh air is still an extremely rare thing whether Potter believes it or not. There is no easy fix to the air pollution problem, but it is an problem which must be addressed. Although I do have a negative outlook on Toronto’s air pollution issue, I do still believe that we may be able to actually reach a point where we are able to say fresh air used to be a rare thing in Toronto.


Article: Potter, M. (2016, July 09). When fresh air was rare in Toronto: Fresh Air Fund | Toronto Star. Retrieved from

Study used:  Finkelstein, M. M., Jerrett, M., & Sears, M. R. (2004). Traffic Air Pollution and Mortality Rate Advancement Periods. American Journal of Epidemiology, 160(2), 173-177. 


I really enjoyed reading your blog post. The title drew me in and the way it is written kept me engaged. I particularly liked how you avoided writing a long description of what was discussed in the article but instead picked out the core argument and then used your own experiences and a separate study to back up your opinion. Air pollution can be a dull topic to read about but I think you did a great job of keeping the blog interesting by making the reader think more about the complexity of the issues and the possible solutions.