Deadly dust in the TTC

1297903097081_ORIGINALBy Roger Schmidt, a retired TTC worker.

As early as 2004 the TTC has tested and knows full well that the Wilson carhouse has airborne particulate matter tied to the “blowdown” to clean the underside of the revenue cars. The first testing was done at my insistence. The staff member who did this resigned over the company’s reaction. The second result was the same.

There is over 5 times (almost 6 times) the legal limit of heavy metals in the amount of dust circulating in the carhouse. The particulate size to the best of my knowledge was not tested. The TTC insisted this is only nuisance dust. Having come from the mining industry I know that there is no such thing as just “nuisance dust”. It is a statistic that people have died after working in the sintering plants of the 1960’s connected to mining.

The Wilson carhouse as well as Greenwood carhouse is always covered in a layer of black dust. It covers everything. When I asked for testing to be done through my Union Stewart, I presented a letter with my concerns about the dust and heavy metals. I stated that high levels of heavy metals in the bloodstream could require chelating agents to remove them and the dangers of these agents to women of childbearing age and pregnancy. I also pointed out that the dust and heavy metals could get into the food chain because of the amount of dust entering the lunchroom facility through the ventilation system.

After the letter the company response was swift. The lunchroom was provided with new ventilation ducting, the electronics room was provided with forced air ventilation and a filtering system. Was this because of the particulate matter size or just the heavy metals?

The dust collector bag house was generally known to be malfunctioning because the filters had become compromised by moisture and this was not the first time. It was put to me that this hadn’t been repaired due to the major expense.

This time after the letter, the dust collector was cleaned and facilitated with new filters. However, they failed to put in a procedure for regular emptying and monitoring. I would be willing to bet that there still isn’t anything in place and I would surmise that the bag house is still malfunctioning.

The blowdown and the under car cleaning should be expanded to help reduce the amount of dust in the tunnels. There was little forethought given to exposure and the whole cleaning system has been functioning haphazardly or malfunctioning since its inception.

The floors were washed more frequently but not on a scheduled basis and they are not the only source of dust. It is on everything and in the air everywhere. The TTC and the union considered this to be a solution and the company still maintained that it was and is only “nuisance dust”.

There isn’t just resistance to wearing masks in the subway but a much larger problem that is denied, because acknowledging this would open a new, very expensive, can of worms. It would appear to be easier to let the employees be exposed to such serious hazards than to be “proactive”.

Where has the union been in all of this? Nowhere. The only action ever taken was what has been previously mentioned. Tokenism to placate the population and members.

Did our union representatives have their hands tied under Bob Kinear? While Local 113 under Bob Kinear was meddling politically in a 10 million dollar safety program, employees were being exposed to serious carcinogens and this particular topic never came back to the table.

The dust in the tunnels is only the tip of the iceberg and will take some measures to reduce or eliminate it. This can be facilitated only with a procedure that is safe, where employees are not exposed and the public is protected. With the amount of expansion and plans for future expansion to the subway and carhouse facilities, one would think it only logical to build a proper facility. The leadership under Bob Kinear was not optimum to say the least, let’s hope our new, present leadership has the intestinal fortitude to save some lives.

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