By: Stephanie Bertolo

Where one lives should not affect how long they live. However, this is evidently not true in Hamilton where residents are more at-risk for developing lung cancer. As members of the McMaster and Hamilton community, we have the right to demand a healthier environment from local leaders and citizens alike.

According to the Prevention System Community Index published by Cancer Care, downtown Hamilton has the highest amount of fine particulate matter in Ontario, with West Hamilton and the Mountain not far behind. Traffic, industry activities and fireplaces are the most common contributors of this carcinogenic air pollutant, which causes 560 new cases of lung cancer in Ontario each year. There are no safe exposure levels, but the World Health Organization has set the reference to 10µg per cubic metre. Levels in downtown Hamilton are 10.8µg per cubic metre.

This can be attributed to a number of factors, including traffic in the downtown core, numerous factories in the North End and the escarpment barrier, which can prevent proper air circulation. No matter the reason, it is unacceptable that these pollutant levels have grown so severe. Hamiltonians’ continual exposure to these harmful substances may very likely have detrimental effects on their long term health.

While many students may not permanently reside in Hamilton, it is still our home, or at least our home away from home, for the four or so years that we attend McMaster. Air pollution is inescapable and may be impacting Mac students. We have the right to demand change.

At McMaster, we can encourage the use of car-pooling for commuters or provide students with suggestions of optimal travel times during which they will avoid idling in traffic. As a school that prides itself on its science programs, we can ask professors to help in these reduction efforts through testimonies of the effects of fine particle matter in our advocacy strategies and to continue to inform new students about their harms. Finally, we can help translate the information on the issue  into more accessible language to promote more widespread knowledge.

Our university has a positive relationship with Hamilton’s City Council. We, as students, could likely approach the mayor and councillors to suggest meaningful changes that could be made in the Hamilton community. Transit is already a hot topic, and students build upon this to campaign for investment in sustainable transportation. Advocating for the LRT is another possibility, so long as city planners use it to minimize congested traffic. Finally, students can call for bylaws imposing stricter regulations of emissions of industries in Hamilton.

We do not have to do this alone. There are a number of groups already working to address this issue: Clean Air Hamilton, Environment Hamilton, Evergreen and Green Venture are just a few organizations in the community working towards creating a greener and healthier city.

WWStudents at McMaster are academics with an abundant base of skills, resources and connections. It is well within our reach to make a meaningful difference to our environment and the health of our city if we choose to. We can advocate for a better future — one where we can breathe easy.

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