City launches air quality index as right-to-know ­report targets polluters

A new bylaw forcing local businesses to disclose information about the pollutants they emit won’t be financially onerous for them, Toronto’s medical officer of health says.

Toronto’s board of health yesterday approved a recommendation from Dr. David McKeown calling for a report next spring on a proposed community right-to-know bylaw.

The report’s approval came the same day Toronto launched a new Air Quality Health Index. The new index, a partnership between the city, province and Ottawa, is part of an 18-month pilot project. With $30 million in funding over four years, the index will eventually be rolled out to medium- and large-sized cities across the country.


The index will give Torontonians more information about the air they breathe.

The bylaw McKeown is calling for would make Toronto North America’s first major city to inform residents what pollutants they’re exposed to and where they come from. There are about 11,000 businesses in Toronto that may be using or releasing chemicals to the environment, but most are too small to be captured by emission reporting systems. Only three per cent of Toronto businesses report to Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory.

McKeown said public health staff have been consulting with businesses to provide tools to help them report on emissions without requiring them to take extensive measurements.

He believes some firms may realize cost savings once a bylaw is in place. “Businesses, once they start to pay more attention to the use and emission of hazardous substances, sometimes find savings, sometimes when they redesign their processes,’’ he said.

Using a scale of 1 to 10, the new index gives Torontonians information for measuring health risk based on how three pollutants — ground-level ozone, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide — interact.

The new index will work along with the existing Air Quality Index, but the latter will still be used for smog advisories.

The index can be found by clicking Toronto on the map of Canada found at


  • The proposed bylaw, which would need council approval, would require businesses to report emissions of 25 toxic substances, including benzene, carbon tetrachloride chloroform, lead and mercury. Sources include food and beverage production, auto repair outlets, labs, and gas stations.