Letter to Toronto City Council regarding jets at Toronto Island airport

To: City Council- Mayor and City Councillors
cc. Water Secretariat and Dr. David McKeown, MOH, Toronto

We are writing you to express grave concerns regarding the proposal to expand the Billy Bishop Airport to jets. We are community health physicians and are extremely alarmed by the potential health harm of jets which will particularly impact the community that lives in such close proximity to the airport. This includes a large number of children and families including pregnant women. There is also a daycare, a community centre, outdoor recreational facilities and a public school in this vicinity.

We will outline some of our main health concerns. There are other concerns that are involved (such as increased risk from increased traffic) but we will limit ourselves to health concerns about jet fuel and noise. We have reviewed and referenced the Health Impact Assessment done on the Santa Monica Airport in 2010 researched and written by physicians. The situation in Santa Monica is quite analogous to the situation in Toronto with a community living in close proximity to the airport. This report reviews the impact of exposure to jet fuel exhaust byproducts and the increased exposure to noise pollution.

Jet fuel exhaust byproducts are numerous and include black carbon, particles - high, medium and ultra-fine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These byproducts are particularly of concern during airplane departures and to a lesser extent, landings.

Many studies have linked black carbon with respiratory disease. It has been shown that lung function is reduced with exposure to black carbon and associated with higher rates of asthma and bronchitis in school-aged children particularly with more prolonged exposure i.e. more than one year. There are also investigations that associate black carbon with direct effects on DNA which could be a link to increased cancer risks.

Jet fuel also contains particulate matter of varying sizes including ultrafine particulate. It has been shown that ultrafine particulate (UFP) results in even greater lung inflammation than exposure to larger particulates. Also, once in the lung it appears that by some yet unknown mechanism, it sets up other inflammation in the body and there is evidence that suggests that this inflammation may predispose to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are yet another group of chemicals found in jet fuel exhaust. They have been shown to be both toxic to genes and carcinogenic (cancer-causing). This raises obvious concerns especially for children and pregnant women. A study that is referenced in the Santa Monica study showed that “infants who have been exposed prenatally to the highest PAH levels scored significantly lower on the mental developmental index at 3 years of age than did those with lower levels of PAH exposure”.

Although the CEO of Porter, Robert Deluce promises “whisper jets” we cannot of course rely on this in any way. This would be like physicians obtaining their information about medication from drug companies. One would assume that the level of noise is going to increase significantly.

Noise itself is a harmful pollutant especially as it impacts children. It has also been shown to increase blood pressure, decrease memory and reduce attention span. One study showed that exposure to even 50 decibels of noise in the daytime is associated with learning difficulties in children. This relates to noise not just at school but within their own homes.

A large scale study is currently being undertaken on 6000 subjects to delineate the affects of noise pollution on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. This suggests that there are very real concerns and that we have much yet to learn about noise as a pollutant. We would not like the population at the airport to be the guinea pigs.

Finally, there is always the worst case scenario of accidents or disasters. The close proximity of the community at the waterfront to the airport puts this population at serious risk of a bad outcome in this situation. Having just experienced the horrific harm to the Lac Megantic community, it doesn’t take much to imagine a catastrophic situation when people are so close to such technology.

We have outlined some of our grave concerns. We understand that the Toronto Public Health is doing a comprehensive health care assessment and have faith in their good abilities.

We would like however to express our personal opinion regarding the proposal to increase traffic and introduce jets to the Billy Bishop Airport based on these real health concerns. Our personal assessment is to stop this proposal in its tracks.

It is unhealthy and dangerous.


Dr. Miriam Garfinkle
Dr. Susan Woolhouse
August 3, 2013

Reference: Santa Monica Health Impact Assessment (HIA) February 2010

Related Topics: Air PollutionAirport NoiseAirportsNoiseNoise/Health RisksNoise PollutionToronto/Island AirportToronto IslandsToronto Waterfront