Emissions and urban design two air quality factors within our control, says Minet

head shot of Laura Minet

Dr. Laura Minet

Postdoctoral fellow Dr. Laura Minet presented “How Can We Minimize Population Exposure to Air Pollution?” for the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR) Seminar Series on October 7, 2020. Minet splits her time between the Transportation and Air Quality group headed by UTTRI associated faculty Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou, and Earth Sciences with Professor Miriam Diamond.

Minet details the health risks associated with air pollution which include both acute risks like stroke, and long-term risks such as cancer. Air pollution costs Canada $114 billion dollars annually in health expenditures.

There are four major factors affecting air quality:

  • Emissions (man-made and natural sources)
  • Chemical reactions
  • Meteorology
  • Urban Design 

People can most directly control emissions and urban design, so Minet focuses on how to reduce air pollutant emissions, the benefits of tackling air pollution, and how to design cities to improve air quality.

For emissions, Minet deploys a framework which models traffic, emissions, and air quality which affect health outcomes and economic valuation in the GTA and Hamilton Area. Through this model, Minet notes that trucks are the largest emitters of traffic-related NOx (nitrogen oxides) and BC (black carbon) emissions, while cars and SUVs contribute the most traffic-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Minet uses this framework to conduct case studies such as quantifying health burdens from each vehicle class and measuring climate/health benefits of cleaner roads by means such as electrifying vehicles. These analyses can be used to calculate social costs of air pollutant emissions and benefits of alternative technology to compare with costs of new government policies.

Regarding urban design, Minet analyzed exposure along bike facilities such as bike lanes, cycle tracks, and multi-use pathways, and areas for residential intensification in the Toronto area. The research used Lane Use Regression (LUR) modelling to look at the impact of future bike facilities. Minet remarks that air quality should be included in the design of bike facilities because BC concentrations around planned facilities will be higher than current facilities. Areas for residential intensification should also consider air quality because BC concentration in growth centres and avenues average higher than the current average exposure of the Toronto population. 

Minet concludes by saying cities should incentivize cleaner vehicles, include air pollution in urban design, and conduct public outreach to educate people on the dangers of air pollution and resources to combat it.

Watch videorecording of How Can We Minimize Population Exposure to Air Pollution? presentation by Dr. Laura Minet.

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