Research: Air Quality Impacts of the Bradford Bypass

The proposed Bradford Bypass highway will negatively impact the air quality of residents, though to what extent and where is more difficult to determine. Our research shows that proponents haven’t thoroughly studied these impacts, and attempts to provide some further information regarding what they might be.

This is a post dealing with the impacts that construction of the Bradford Bypass could have on the surrounding community and, more broadly, on the GTA and Ontario.

To view more content related to the proposed highway visit our Bradford Bypass page.

A rendering of what a Bradford Bypass bridge could look like crossing over the East Holland River. Credit SCGC.

New research by SCGC shows that the negative impacts from construction of the Bradford Bypass could be more wide-spread and severe than what is shown by proponents, specifically in the final Environmental Conditions Report.

Two maps were created to illustrate findings, highlighting additional information regarding where these impacts could be felt, as well as the severity of impacts.

The first map identifies Critical Receptor locations in the Bradford area where the impacts from degraded air quality might be most severe, is shown below. The second incorporates the dispersion distances of common contaminants, and combines that with the CR location’s proximity to each other, weighted by proximity to the highway and contamination dispersion areas, to illustrate where the greatest cause for concern might be.

Critical Receptor Map

Traffic related air pollution (TRAP) is both a well-known risk and emerging concern to public health.

The fact of negative health impacts of TRAP, which can be long lasting, cumulative, and severe, is well established among researchers and public health practitioners, though perhaps less well by the public. As the technology of our vehicles changes, however, and as research methods evolve new concerns regarding negative health impacts continue to emerge.

In the Final Environmental Conditions Report (ECR), prepared by AECON for the Ministry of Transportation, 20 Critical Receptor (CR) locations are identified. These are defined in the ECR as, ‘“retirement homes, hospitals, childcare centres, schools and similar institutional buildings” within the Ministry’s Air Quality Guide.”1See page 208 of the ECR, linked above.

We conducted a desktop review, the method used by AECON in ECR for their assessment of CR locations, and found an additional 11 CR locations that match the types outlined above.

We found a further 20 locations within the study area that we believe, while not strictly within the definition, represent locations where risk of health impacts due to poor air quality is heightened, and should thus also be classified as CRs. These include recreational facilities, such as outdoor sports fields, parks, playgrounds, as well as community and recreation centres.

On the map below AECON/MTO identified CR locations are shown in blue, while locations found by us are shown in orange. A triangle indicates retirement homes, cross schools, star daycare centres, and ellipse recreational facilities.

In total 31 additional CR locations were identified where poor air quality could have an out-sized impact on human health.

Mapping showing where critical receptors for air quality impacts were identified by the MTO and AECON, as well as additional locations identified by research conducted independently by SCGC.

This research discovered an additional 31 locations where degraded air quality due to highway traffic could have an out-sized impact on the health of children and other residents.

Click the map to view a larger size.

While research into the health impacts of short-term, high-intensity exposure to TRAP is still emerging, concerns already exist that strongly indicate a prudent approach, mitigating exposure where and when possible, would be wise.

Health Canada, together with the Sport Information and Resource Centre, provide guidance to this effect,2Understanding Air Quality: A Guiding Document for Sport Organizations while recognizing that better understanding remains necessary to protect the health of sport participants.

What should give more cause for concern regarding sport participation among the youth in areas affected by TRAP is that young cardio-vascular systems are still developing. While this may mean there is more capacity for them to develop out of negative impacts, it also means that potential impacts have out-sized influence on physiological development.

Sport participants, furthermore, are more likely to continue to engage in strenuous exercise, and to the extent they do so in areas impacted by TRAP the likelihood of developing negative health outcomes increases.

This all strongly supports, we believe, the inclusion of recreational and exercise facilities in air quality studies and the impacts TRAP may have on human health.

Select locations are highlighted, below, to show instances of critical receptors that were not included in the Environmental Conditions Report.

Hover over the arrow hotspots for a description of the highlighted location.

Henderson Memorial Park, located at Line 9 and Sideroad 10, is a recreational facility that includes a playground, splash pad, sports fields, tennis and basketball courts, and more.

This facility is a prime example of what we believe should be included in the MTOs Critical Receptor air quality mapping, but which is not.

Bradford Children's Academy offers daycare for infants and children, as well as before and after school care for children up to 10 years old.

Website

Holy Trinity Catholic High School has several hundred students, and is one of two secondary schools in Bradford.

Website

Lions Park is one of the most popular public parks in Bradford, with a ball diamonds, outdoor ice rink, basketball and tennis courts, splash pad, and playground.

Numerous public parks like this, where people, including young children, spend significant amounts of time outdoors were not included in the critical receptor research by MTO and AECON on the impacts of poor air quality resulting from construction of the Bradford Bypass highway.

Traffic Related Air Pollution (TRAP) Map

This map shows areas where that risk may be most profound along the proposed route, though there are caveats that should be understood that may increase the severity of risk.

There are two key elements to the map, dispersal zones indicating the extent at which identified TRAPs are reduced to background levels, and an illustration of Critical Receptor locations identified in our Critical Receptor Map.

Mapping showing where critical receptors for air quality impacts were identified by the MTO and AECON, as well as additional locations identified by research conducted independently by SCGC.

This research discovered an additional 28 locations where degraded air quality due to highway traffic could have an out-sized impact on the health of children and other residents.

Click the map to view a larger size.

As with the identification of Critical Receptor locations on the previous map, this map includes locations where people, including children, spend time outdoors, including, in particular, engaged in strenuous activity like sports.

By combining proximity to each other, as well as to the dispersal zones of pollutants, a heatmap is generated to show where exposure is likely to be most severe. While those living within the darker red areas are more likely to be exposed to TRAP, this does not account for more fluid dynamics of weather patterns, which may alter how pollutants are dispersed.

Another caveat is, while the severity of exposure tends to increase with closer proximity to the highway, ultra-fine particulate matter (UFP) is generally dispersed more broadly than larger size particulate matter. UFP is particularly concerning with regard to its impact on health as it is able to easily translocate within the body, passing through tissue and into organs, including the brain.

As a result, a person may experience a high severity of exposure at distance from the highway, somewhat in contradiction to the closer, proximity based, modelling that the heatmap indicates here.

MTO's Future Modelling Based on Faulty Assumptions

The ECR notes that “there are anticipated improvements in vehicles combustion efficiency, with older models retired from the vehicle fleet. Therefore, the expected impact from emissions in 2051 and 2061 should result in greater reductions than present for in the 2041 scenario.”3ECR June, 2023. Page 345

There are two points that need to be made with respect to this.

False Choice Dilemma

First, this argument, as with the entire approval process for this project, comes very close to exemplifying a false dichotomy in the sense that, almost exclusively, the choices are presented as either build a highway to solve an increase in traffic, or don’t build a highway and suffer the consequences of congestion due to increased traffic.

The air quality modelling, and associated assumptions regarding emissions, only hold if a highway is seen as the only solution to enabling transportation in the Bradford area.

Alternatives, such as stronger policy direction in support of complete communities, along with investment in establishing efficient regional and inter-regional transit, ideally with electrified rail, would accomplish transportation objectives, and improve the quality of life in our communities at a cheaper cost and with less emissions than the old build more roads and highways approach.

While there is a nod towards a “no-build” scenario, this is discounted due to an absence of traffic modelling for the projected time horizon.

From our perspective this betrays a lack of interest in finding answers regarding what the impact of this project may be on the health of those living nearby.

Relatively simple modelling can be done based on available population and uptake of either personal vehicles, whether ICE or EV, or uptake of mass- and active-transit options, such as what would be available with a commitment to building 15-minute communities and inter-city rail.

Ignoring, or Unaware of, the Research?

The second point addresses the claim that improvements in combustion efficiency will result in emissions reductions. A similar claim is made by oil companies operating in Alberta’s tar sands, and is effectively an intensity based argument. 

The math here only works to the extent that the number of vehicles, or the number of barrels of oil, remains the same.

Aggregate emissions may be reduced in this case, but if the number of vehicles grows, which is the business case for building this highway in the first place, then the aggregate amount of emissions also grows.

A reliance on the transition from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) to Electric Vehicles (EVs) is implied in this argument as well, and it also needs to be addressed because there is a lot of  misinformation regarding how EVs impact the environment.

Even with a reduction in the number of vehicles travelling over this route, which is highly unlikely to the case since the case for building it in the first place is a projected increase in vehicle use, it is likely that UFP emissions will increase.

Electric vehicles, due to their increased weight, cause far higher amounts of UFP to be dispersed into the environment than lighter vehicles, and than tail pipe emissions from an equivalent amount of ICE vehicles.

Graphic from The Guardian, showing amount of ultra fine particulate emissions due to tires and due to tailpipe emissions. Credit The Guardian.

This graph, from The Guardian, shows how much particulate matter tires produce relative to tailpipe exhaust.

Source: Car tyres produce vastly more particle pollution than exhausts, tests show

Much of the UFP comes from the friction between the tire and the road, with particulate, in effect, being rubbed off the tire and cast into the air. There is also evidence particulate matter from tires is a major source of micro-plastics that are increasingly polluting waterways.

Brake dust is another concern, though evidence is somewhat mixed whether this will increase with EVs, which utilize regenerative braking and so don’t engage brake discs as often.

The MTO/AECOM seem to have either simply ignored these findings, or to be unaware of them. Neither of these positions is acceptable given the public health implications.

A Public Health Approach

The myth that more people means more cars and traffic needs to be dispelled. More people in fact generate the opportunity for more efficient and accessible transit options. All that is needed for this to happen is sound policy and political will.

One of the best choices local governments can make to combat climate change is to increase the density of their communities and move people away from cars and towards active and public transportation.

Pursuing this approach not only improves public health outcomes through more active lifestyles, it also solves the tension that arises when the increase in population drives an increased demand for road infrastructure, which in turn negatively impacts the health of residents.

It is increasingly clear that policies that promote increased vehicle traffic should be seen as a last resort, and implemented only where no other options are possible.

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Arial photo of the Holland Marsh, with Lake Simcoe in the distance. Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Bradford Bypass

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Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

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Letter to the Editor

Freedom of Information requests obtained by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition show that the province is not being upfront regarding the Bradford Bypass.

February 20, 2023 - Simcoe County

Letter to editor response to article “No timeline yet for controversial Bradford Bypass project.”

Can we stop pretending that the province doesn’t have answers about its controversial Bradford Bypass project and instead recognize the misinformation for what it is? In the article quoted, the journalist outlines that the project doesn’t have a timeline yet. That is simply not true. They have a timeline but chose not to share it.

Freedom of Information requests by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition show that the province is working on a timeframe of completion no earlier than 2032. These are documents straight from the MTO. The timeframe was corroborated and reported in The Toronto Star and The Narwhal.

It is shameful that instead of answering council’s questions directly, MTO decided that they’d rather not outline that it could be at least a decade before this highway is ready for use, if it even comes.

To those of us who follow this closely, the misinformation and hiding of facts is par for the course. What else haven’t government officials and consultants been upfront about?

Well for starters, the cost.

Infographic showing how much the cost of the Bradford Bypass has ballooned, and what that money could be spent on instead. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

In its recent report of government expenditures, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario notes that the government is vastly under-spending in a number of areas.

We believe that these areas, including health, education, and children’s services, are important and that they should be priorities.

The Auditor General reported that this 16 km highway could cost a staggering $2-4 billion – that’s according to MTO’s own calculations. That’s a whopping $125,000,000 per kilometer you and I will pay for the Bypass. That’s using the lower figure. Use the upper end of their estimates (when’s the last time large construction projects come in on budget?) and you get a figure of a quarter billion dollars, yes $250 million, per kilometer that taxpayers are on the hook for.

We have the internal documents that show the government knew of this new cost in 2021, prior to them ramming ahead with it. Even so, there was no effort to inform the public that the project’s price tag had ballooned at least 300 percent from the $800,000 estimate project staff and Minister Caroline Mulroney were touting.

This project is still almost a decade away before it’s completed. How much more of our tax dollars is this government going to waste on it?

What else have they not been upfront about?

The size of the highway.

We knew there was talk about potentially widening the highway to six lanes. But yet again this seems to be part of an effort to minimize impacts and mislead the public. We know that in fact this may be an eight lane highway – double the size.

This means double the loss of Greenbelt, double the loss of wetlands, double the air pollution and double the noise pollution. Again, this was corroborated and reported in the Toronto Star and Narwhal investigations.

Map showing locations of highways that the Ford government plans to build, and the impact they would have on the Greenbelt and on farmland. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

There are 3 highways in the pipeline for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area of Ontario. All of them will significantly impact the Greenbelt, as well as prime farmland.

So instead of the headline making it sound like there’s no information available, let’s call it for what it is – misinformation,obstruction, and wasteful use of taxpayers money by this government. Because, like us, they know that in a time when people are wanting solutions – better healthcare and good use of public funds – communicating the truth of the matter would just expose this highway as another boondoggle – a gas plant scandal in our own backyard.

The impact of new highways on the Greenbelt is likely to be felt far and wide, our mapping shows.

Highway Construction and Aggregate Mining in the Greenbelt

Aggregate Mining in the Greenbelt

New research released by Gravel Watch Ontario, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and Environmental Defence suggest that massive amounts of aggregates for the Bradford Bypass and 413 highways will come from pits in the 905 and the Greenbelt.

Mining these aggregates will have serious impacts on nearby communities and must be addressed in environmental reviews of the proposed highways.

According to the research, building the two highways will require approximately 3 million tonnes of new aggregate, and will increase truck traffic within affected communities by over 130,000 truckloads during construction.

The analysis shows that several communities within the 905 region are more at risk of becoming the future source of the highways’ aggregate because of their proximity to the proposed routes of the highways, the amount of potential aggregate resources available, and concentration of existing permits within particular areas.

Highlights

  • A total of 288 square kilometers within the study area is dedicated to active aggregate pits;
  • 39% of aggregate sites within the study area are found within the Greenbelt’s boundaries, while the Greenbelt covers only 29% of the study area;
  • Caledon, Adjala-Tosorontio, and Whitchurch-Stouffville, are likely to be impacted by aggregate demands for these projects the most;
  • Unrehabilitated site data from the government is unreliable, with record dates limited to a time between 2006 and 2010. Viewing sites with satellite imagery show a use-mix of what look like former aggregate pits, agricultural lands, and residential areas;
  • Furthermore, some sites overlap with each other.
Map: Municipal Vulnerability to Aggregate Activity for New Highway Construction in the GTA
Map of municipalities within a 50 km area around the Bradford Bypass and 413 highways showing their vulnerability do aggregate mining for related construction resources. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Click for larger version.

This choropleth map is segmented by municipality, and weighted according to a scoring system that combines four scores:

  • “PER_SCORE”, which is the percent of the municipality’s area covered by sand and gravel resources, excluding built up areas;
  • “DIST_SCORE”, which is a measure of the distance that the municipality is from the respective projects;
  • “TON_SCORE”, which is a measure of the total tonnage allowed in the municipality;
  • and “DEP_SCORE”, which is a measure of the depths of the sand and gravel resources contained within the municipality.

PER_SCORE

For the PER_SCORE the sand and gravel mapping, which were separate files, were combined, the built up areas in the municipality were then subtracted from the combined file, and the result was then measured as a percent of the total area of the municipality. Scores are from 1 to 4, representing 25% increments.

DIST_SCORE

The distance scores are derived from the 20 kilometre and the 50 kilometre distances from the proposed projects. The 50 kilometer radius from the projects is based on a conservative estimate, provided by Gravel Watch Ontario, of the distance from which aggregate resources are normally sourced for projects, with that distance sometimes being expanded outward to 70 kilometers. A score of 2 was given if the municipality was within the 20 kms radius, and 1 if it was within the 50 kms radius. For municipalities within the 20 km radii of both projects a total of 4 was given, and likewise, if a municipality was within the 20 km radius of one project and the 5 km radius of another, it got a score of 3.

TON_SCORE

The tonnage score is based on a decile, with municipalities receiving a score of between 1 and 10, where 10 represents the highest total tonnage permitted within the municipality.

DEP_SCORE

A depth score of aggregate resources based on mapping by the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) was included to give an additional metric of impact. Depth data are provided by OGS in four categories: Less than 1.5m; 1.5m to 3m; 3m to 6m; and Greater than 6m. DEP_SCORES were apportioned from 1 to 4, with 1 for 1.5m and 4 for Great than 6m.

Sources

“Aggregate site authorized – active”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated November 16, 2018. Data updated December 15, 2021. Downloaded November 25, 2021. (Link)(Data)

Aggregate Resources of Ontario—2020”,Ontario Geological Survey. Downloaded June 30, 2021. (Link)

Greenbelt outer boundary”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated August 6, 2021. Data updated May 18, 2017. Downloaded January 2, 2022. (Link)

Mapbox Base Monochrome”, Mapbox (personal account). Created January 10, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2022. (Link)

“Ontario Road Network (ORN) Road Net Element”, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Info updated September 27, 2019. Data updated January 5, 2022. (Link)

“GTA_West_RevisedRoute_August2020_Lat_Lon”, Environmental Defence/As The Crow Flies Cartography. Received November 30, 2021.

“Municipal Boundary – Lower and Single Tier”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated June 4, 2019. Data updated April 20, 2021. (Link)

Bryan Smith, of Gravel Watch Ontario, has been long involved with local aggregate issues and knows what kind of burden this will place on the rural communities that could be affected.

“These highway proposals are being touted as a net benefit, but the communities where the pits and quarries would make a Swiss cheese of the landscape will not feel the same. From increased truck traffic, wear and tear on local roads, reduced air quality, to issues with groundwater, aggregate comes at a high cost to the host municipality and its residents. There is no net benefit. Consequently, many municipalities are asking the province to make aggregate pay their fair share.”

The rock, sand and gravel extraction and its impact on communities up to 50 kilometers from the proposed routes is just another example of how the province is pushing forward these highway proposals without a full examination of their costs and impacts.

Map: Aggregate Mining in Ontario's Greenbelt
Map showing the density of aggregate activity, as well as the Greenbelt and proposed routes for the Bradford Bypass and 413 highways. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Click for larger version.

The “Aggregate Site Heatmap” is meant to show clustering of aggregate sites. This map uses one source of information shown two different ways – a heatmap, which draws attention to the density of sites, and the sites themselves, shown as polygons.

The heatmap uses data from the “Aggregate site authorized – active” file provided by the provincial government, with the sites, which are provided in polygon form, converted into centroid points. The size of the polygons is calculated into “AREA” and the centroid points are weighted by this metric.

The Greenbelt boundary is included to indicate impacts that aggregate mining may have on an area many Ontarians believe is protected from development, as well as industrial, activity. While development, understood in a strict sense of housing, may be restricted, the knock on effects of road and highway construction, this data shows, are largely not.

A measure of aggregate impact on the Greenbelt was arrived at by calculating the surface area of aggregate mines located within the Greenbelt AND within the study area. The result shows that 29% or the study area is covered by Greenbelt and 39% of the surface area of aggregate pits located within the study area are to be found within the Greenbelt boundaries.

Sources

“Aggregate site authorized – active”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated November 16, 2018. Data updated December 15, 2021. Downloaded November 25, 2021. (Link)(Data)

“Greenbelt outer boundary”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated August 6, 2021. Data updated May 18, 2017. Downloaded January 2, 2022. (Link)

“Mapbox Base Monochrome”, Mapbox (personal account). Created January 10, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2022. (Link)

Ontario Road Network (ORN) Road Net Element”, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Info updated September 27, 2019. Data updated January 5, 2022. (Link)

“GTA_West_RevisedRoute_August2020_Lat_Lon”, Environmental Defence/As The Crow Flies Cartography. Received November 30, 2021.

“Municipal Boundary – Lower and Single Tier”, >Land Information Ontario. Info updated June 4, 2019. Data updated April 20, 2021. (Link)

Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence, is concerned that environmental assessments of the highways won’t be considering the impacts from required aggregate.

“The shocking scale of the aggregate needed to build these highways means impacts will be felt by communities across a number of regions. The federal and provincial governments have an obligation to assess and address these widespread impacts as part of a robust and thorough environmental assessment of the highway projects.”

The mapping also shows that nearly 40 per cent of the aggregate sites likely to supply material for these projects are located within the Greenbelt.

Expansion of those pits puts at risk the crucial ecosystem services the Greenbelt provides, such as clean water, fresh air, healthy food, and habitat for wildlife. These impacts of aggregate extraction on the Greenbelt are compounded by the fact that they are being used, in this case, for projects that run through the Greenbelt, and which will likely lead to increased development pressure on it.

Did you know?

Ontario's Greenbelt provides:

$2.1 billion dollars worth of recreational activity each year.

$224 million dollars worth of flood prevention every year.

$52 million equivalent of carbon absorption every year.

Margaret Prophet, Executive Director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, believes that the highway proposals are yet another example of how this government has targeted the Greenbelt on behalf of developers.

“We heard promises that “we’re not going to touch the Greenbelt,” and yet this government wants to run two large highways right through it. The demand for aggregate, and the fact that much of it is likely to come from within the Greenbelt, only makes matters worse. The narrow focus on localized impacts creates a situation in which the Greenbelt is left vulnerable to a death by a thousand cuts. The impact of aggregate mining for these highways is a perfect example of this.”

The coalition’s research shows there is little that municipalities can do to protect citizens and ensure a healthy environment in the face of pressure from the aggregate industry.

Tim Gray adds, “The province is knowingly putting communities and the Greenbelt at risk from increased aggregate extraction to build destructive and unnecessary highways. And thanks to recently passed legislation, they have removed almost every tool municipalities used to have to limit or control these impacts. The communities located in these extraction hotspots need to be aware that if these highways go ahead it will impact them, even if they are far from the highways’ routes.”

Take Action

  • Sign the DAMN petition calling for a moratorium on all new applications for aggregate mining in Ontario.
  • Tweet a message to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault asking for a federal impact assessment of the Bradford Bypass.

Related Content

Photo of a highway bridge. Credit Ajai Arif.

The Bradford Bypass – Clearing the Air

There are a lot of misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings regarding the role that highways and cars play in our economy, and the impact they have on our environment and communities. Many of these are coming to the fore with the Bradford Bypass. Here we address some of them.

Read More »
Arial photo of the Holland Marsh, with Lake Simcoe in the distance. Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Bradford Bypass

The provincial government is proposing a highway that would connect the 404 with the 400. The proposed route passes along the northern edge of Bradford, and through portions of the Holland Marsh.

Read More »

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

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