(Quebec) Quebec City has an air quality problem that causes asthma in children and heart problems in adults, but regional Public Health has a prescription: reduce road capacity in a sensitive area of the capital.

This recommendation comes as the Legault government promises to build a highway tunnel between Lévis and Quebec. The third link must also exit near a sector of the city particularly affected by air quality problems and dump between 40,000 and 50,000 cars per day.

“The planning and transportation decisions we make now must be compatible with a decarbonized and clean future,” said Monday at a press conference the director of public health for the Capitale-Nationale, Dr. André Dontigny.

Regional Public Health has unveiled a long-awaited report on air quality in Quebec’s Lower Town. It concludes that nickel is less dangerous for the local population than fine particle emissions.

“The concentrations of fine particles are comparable between Quebec and Montreal even though Quebec is a smaller city,” laments Dr. Philippe Robert, a public health doctor.

These fine particles are found everywhere in Quebec. There are even more in the Champigny sector of Sainte-Foy than in Lower Town. However, these particles mainly come from wood heating and transportation.

Public Health therefore makes nine recommendations, including the reduction of road capacity in the Limoilou-Vanier-Basse-Ville sector and the promotion of public and active transportation.

“We need to promote active transportation, a city with more pedestrians and more bicycles,” said Dr. Dontigny.

The regional director of public health did not want to comment directly on the third link project. He promises to do so when submitted to the BAPE.

“But we’re giving you the parameters here that we’re going to use to assess any project, including a third link project,” he says. If the tunnel project creates “more volume in places where we want less volume, we will have to assess it on that basis”.

However, the tunnel that the CAQ government wants to build must exit near ExpoCité, in an area where the air quality is known to be poor.

Regional Public Health notes that the electrification of transport must improve air quality. But electric vehicles also emit fine particles, submits Dr. Philippe Robert, although studies do not yet agree on the quantity.

“In urban areas, several experts say that simply electrifying is not an optimal solution from a collective point of view. We do not have the same benefits as active transportation for public health. Even with public transport, studies show that people will walk, stand, less sedentary than when sitting in a car,” adds the doctor.

The deputy for Jean-Lesage, Sol Zanetti, also believes that this recommendation from Public Health “is one more nail in the coffin of the third link”.

“The issue of air quality in Quebec is another argument for abandoning the third link project once and for all,” said PQ MP Joël Arseneau, his party’s spokesperson for environment.

The mayor of Quebec was more cautious. Bruno Marchand believes that “the government will have to demonstrate if it goes ahead with its project in which it does not contribute to a deterioration of the quality of the air”.

Mr. Marchand also believes that the recommendations of Public Health are in line with his electoral program in favor of pedestrians and cyclists.

The report released Monday focused primarily on air quality in Limoilou-Vanier-Basse-Ville, located near the activities of the Port of Quebec. But Public Health estimates that citizens’ exposure to nickel poses “very low” risks and would cause “less than one case of cancer in 70 years” in the local population.

On the other hand, fine particles cause 20 cases of asthma among children in the area each year and 33 premature deaths from ischemic heart disease.

The measurements made by Public Health show that the Upper Town is not spared by fine particles. There are even more in the Champigny sector, and significant concentrations have also been noted near the Collège Saint-Charles-Garnier.

In all the sampling stations in Quebec, the concentrations of fine particles exceeded the standard of the World Health Organization.

“It’s not a specific situation [in Limoilou]. Me, I would have no hesitation, I would go live there,” said Dr. Philippe Robert.

According to him, the air quality in Quebec must be improved, but is similar to that of many urbanized areas. “But dense urban environments have many desirable characteristics that are health-promoting,” he says, such as the ability to walk or ride a bike to get around.