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Groups call on human rights commission to investigate 'hazardous pollution' caused by trucks downtown Ottawa

A transport truck turns at the intersection of Rideau and Waller streets in downtown Ottawa. Jan. 10, 2023. (Dave Charbonneau/CTV News Ottawa) A transport truck turns at the intersection of Rideau and Waller streets in downtown Ottawa. Jan. 10, 2023. (Dave Charbonneau/CTV News Ottawa)
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Health, community and environmental groups in Ottawa want the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to investigate allowing heavy trucks to travel through the densely populated areas of downtown, citing urgent health threats caused by heavy truck emissions.

The groups said in a news release on Friday this comes after a letter to the city’s Mayor Mark Sutcliffe went unanswered last year.

“Air pollution is recognized globally as a major health risk — it is estimated that it causes approximately 6,700 premature deaths in Ontario every year. Diesel emissions from heavy trucks, like those along Ottawa’s trucking corridor, are considered the most hazardous pollution of vehicle emissions and pose serious risks to those within 50-250 metres of the roadway,” reads the release.

Toxic air pollution created by truck exhausts is linked to cancers, cardiovascular disease and neurological effects, adds Dr. Sehjal Bhargava, physician and Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment board member.

“Is this really acceptable in the core of our city? No. Redirecting trucks away from heavily populated areas is a matter of human health and environmental justice,” Dr. Bhargava said.

Meanwhile breathing polluted air has become an everyday reality for people who live and work downtown, says Ecojustice lawyer, Bronwyn Roe, noting that it’s time for the city to correct course.

“The trucking route also poses serious safety concerns. Thousands of tractor trailer sized trucks wind their way every day through the neighbourhood making tight turns at several intersections that also carry thousands of pedestrians each day. Trucks have caused several deaths of pedestrians and cycling traffic is virtually nonexistent due to safety concerns. For those who live and work along the route, long term exposure to air pollution from diesel exhaust and particular matter also poses serious health concerns,” said Louise Lapointe, president of Action Sandy Hill.

Vulnerable people who spend prolonged hours on the streets downtown are at the greatest risks, reads the release, adding that allowing trucks to pass through downtown is a violation of the OHRC.

“Ottawa’s trucking bylaw permits heavy trucks to roll through a densely populated neighbourhood that is home to thousands of residents, hundreds of local businesses, a daycare centre with an outdoor play area just metres from the roadway, and three homeless shelters where people congregate at street level for hours every day,” reads the release.

The groups seeking the investigation include Ecojustice, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Friends of the Earth Canada, Action Sandy Hill, and the Lowertown Community Association.

The groups say an investigation by the OHRC could result in human rights-based solutions to truck traffic and compel the city to address the "discriminatory impacts of truck pollution in Ottawa."

Last year, residents called for the elimination of trucks along King Edward Avenue, as trucks travel along the road every day connecting Ottawa and Gatineau. Ecojustice Canada called the fumes, pollution and large truck traffic in the area a violation of residents' human rights.

CTV News Ottawa has reached out to the City of Ottawa and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe for comment, but didn't hear back.

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