Your neighborhood affects your health, new report points out

It is not just the Horne Foundry in Rouyn-Noranda that has a deleterious impact on the health of residents in its sector. Montreal’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods and areas near major highways are affected by a higher concentration of pollutants and heat islands, according to a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation.

While the quality of water, soil, air and food influences people’s health, low-income and racialized people are the most affected by these inequities, according to the report, which focuses on environmental injustices and health inequalities.

North and East

The North and East of the city are particularly affected, such as the boroughs of Pointe-Aux-Trembles, Montréal-Nord, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Parc-Extension, as Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers pointed out during a technical briefing held on September 8th.

Yet the report points out that the poorer people are, the less greenhouse gases they emit. These gases are linked to transport, energy and consumer goods… and wealthy people travel more, consume more, have more energy-efficient housing and own more cars, underlines the clinical physician and teacher at the Laval University, Isabelle Goupil-Sormany.

It is the industrial and road infrastructures that undermine the health and environmental picture of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the report points out. For example, the Trans-Nord pipeline crosses the northern and eastern boroughs of the island, recognized as being the most disadvantaged. Its continued operation poses safety and health issues.

Indeed, several incidents of leaks have occurred since its construction more than 65 years ago. It passes under houses and a school and yet no evacuation plan has been planned to date.

In addition, Ray-Mont Logistiques is in the process of setting up a goods transshipment platform near a long-term care center and social housing in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The project would cause many environmental nuisances, according to the report.

The health effects are multiple and differ according to exposure to pollutants. For example, there are increases in asthma attacks, cardiovascular problems and cases of cancer, according to the Regional Public Health Department (DRSP).

Transport

Moreover, the transportation sector is the largest contributor of fine particles to the atmosphere in Montreal, according to the DRSP. Populations living near major roads, such as highways and arteries like Notre-Dame Street, are particularly affected.

The health consequences of air pollution are manifold. There are breathing difficulties, heart disease, neurodevelopmental disorders or premature dementia problems, according to Ms. Pétrin-Desrosiers.

While the World Health Organization tightened air quality thresholds last year, the provincial government did not follow suit, arguing that air quality was adequate in Quebec.

Heat islands

In addition, heat islands represent an insidious and additional health risk. Once again, their distribution within the districts of the metropolis is unbalanced.

Map superimposing the heat islands and the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Montreal. Source Quebec Geoportal – 2012 heat island data.

The majority of Montrealers who died due to the consequences of the 2018 summer heat wave lived in a heat island, the report recalls. “The absence of vegetation or air conditioning is just as much a threat to health, especially during a heat wave,” he says.

Due to existing social inequalities, the capacities of adaptation to climate change are not the same between the inhabitants. Access to islands of freshness such as bathing places is more difficult for the most disadvantaged and immigrant people, due to the language barrier, for example.

Moreover, this summer, the City of Montreal tried a new method of cooling for people located in a heat island. The Plante administration is banking on containers serving as a temporary swimming pool.

Actions envisaged

The report highlights the lack of action with regard to the environmental injustices that exist in Quebec and which further threaten the health of the most vulnerable populations.

Contacted by Subway, the Parti Québécois (PQ) recalls that it wishes to dedicate 1% of the Quebec Infrastructure Plan to greening and to establish a national air quality plan. The PQ also wants to involve the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement in any new industrial development, according to the PQ’s deputy director of communications, Anne-Sophie Desprez.

The City, the Coalition avenir Québec, the Liberal Party of Québec, Québec solidaire and the Conservative Party of Québec did not return calls from Subway.

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