Construction revival increases noise pollution

By Reedah Hayder

Toronto residents have faced increased noise pollution as construction workers have ended a quiet two weeks on strike.

On May 20, members of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, representing tens of thousands of crane and heavy equipment operators, voted to ratify a three-year provincial collective agreement with contractors. The agreement provides a monetary increase of $9 an hour over three years, among other benefits.

After a welcome break for residents, now “they’re back in full force,” said Canary District resident Kirsty Beck-Lorillon. Working from home, she’s back to being continuously muted during online meetings.

“[The return] has been a little worse” than before the strike, Beck-Lorillon said. “They are obviously trying to catch up and are starting earlier – hence I’m noticing it more. They started at 7 a.m. on Saturday.”

The World Health Organization says 55 decibels is the maximum loudness to safely subjected humans to over time. Yet a 2017 report by Toronto Public Health found residents were exposed to a daily average of 62.9 decibels in Toronto.

An early 1990s study by the Construction Safety Association of Ontario (now the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association) found that most construction equipment produced 77 to125 dB at the operator’s position. Multiple studies have suggested that constant noise above 42 dB contributes to heart disease, stroke, depression, lack of sleep and cognitive impairment in children.

During the break from construction, “I could breathe and do what I needed to during the day at work without worrying,” Beck-Lorillon said. Construction’s return “has thrown a spanner in the works.”

She often avoids her balcony, not only to avoid noise, but also because of the thick layer of soot that construction drilling produces. “It’s really annoying to have something that I cannot use,” she said.

Because of noise, “a couple nights we didn’t sleep and that really affected our mental health. And beeping – the constant beeping in the morning … [when machines and trucks] come down the tiny street is torture.”

A Toronto resident for about five years, Beck-Lorillon said, “Construction and building is part of life here and we understood that.” But she and her husband are reconsidering plans to buy the condo they live in.