National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada)
July 14, 2007 Saturday
Presenting a filtered view; 1,700 Smog Deaths A Year In Toronto Is A
Computer-Generated Figure, Not A Body Bag Count
Kelly Patrick, National Post
TORONTO; Pg. A19
When politicians from the federal, Ontario and Toronto governments gathered this week to trumpet a new tool to
measure air quality -- a project expected to cost Ottawa $30-million over four years -- the city's medical officer of
praised the plan with a statistic that has become a popular chestnut around City Hall.
is responsible for 1,700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospital admissions in Toronto each year," Dr.
David McKeown said in a news release handed out to the horde of reporters at the launch of the air quality
Cited by Toronto Public
(TPH) in its smog literature, raised frequently by some Toronto councillors, and
repeated ad nauseam by the media, the figure of 1,700 smog deaths annually has taken on an aura of infallibility.
But the truth is much more ambiguous, critics say.
If the figure were accurate, it would equate to nearly five smog deaths a day; if spread out over just the three hottest
months of the year, when pollution levels are at their highest, the smog death toll would be closer to 18 per day.
If Toronto's pollution kills 1,700 people a year, dirty air would account for roughly a third of all heart-and lung-
related deaths or nearly 10% of the 18,636 deaths recorded in all of Toronto in 1999, the year upon which the 1,700
figure is based.
There is a reason the numbers seem puzzlingly high, say critics of TPH's conclusions.
"The numbers aren't real people, in the sense that you could never get a list of names," said Dr. Ross McKitrick, an
associate professor of environmental economics at the University of Guelph. "It's the kind of model that is susceptible to
cherry-picking for finding results that suit a polemical purpose."
Joel Schwartz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who examined the TPH figures for a 2004 ar-