March 30, 2023

Ontario Bill Would Protect Against Airborne Pandemics

A bill introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on March 27 would establish a committee to ensure indoor air quality in non-residential workplaces and public settings across the province. The “Advisory Committee to Protect Ontario’s People and Economy from Airborne Pandemics” would comprise occupational hygienists, building ventilation specialists, IAQ researchers, aerosol scientists, and representatives of several other professions including epidemiologists, healthcare workers, engineers, and architects. The proposed legislation defines “airborne disease transmission” as “the spread of diseases through the inhalation of infectious respiratory aerosols that remain suspended in the air after being transmitted from an infected person.”

If it becomes law, the bill would empower the committee to make recommendations related to “ventilation, filtration, and other air cleaning methods to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases.” The committee would also consider ways to educate the public about IAQ, cover the costs of IAQ improvements made by small businesses, and ensure that personal protective equipment such as N95 filtering facepiece respirators are available during future pandemics.

The committee would be required to consult with several stakeholder groups, including the Canadian Aerosol Transmission Coalition, which formed in December 2020 to promote scientifically-based solutions to airborne and aerosol virus transmission. CATC, which supports the bill, includes several AIHA members in its leadership group, including Marianne Levitsky, CIH, ROH; Elham Ahmadpour, MIng; Lydia Renton, CIH, ROH; Simon Smith, PhD; Laurence Svirchev, CIH; and Krista Thompson, ROH.

"The proposed legislation is a breakthrough because it recognizes the vital importance of an inter-disciplinary approach to pandemic preparedness and response,” Svirchev said. “This includes occupational hygienists and ventilation engineers as well as physicians. The bill also recognizes the role of key stakeholders, especially employers and unions, and the role of volunteer citizen-scientists. All of these groups need to work together with the OEHS and medical professions in getting clean, respirable air into our workplaces and public buildings to prevent airborne transmission of respiratory biohazards."

Introduced by Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Kristyn Wong-Tam, the bill faces long odds against passage. According to a commentary published by TVO Today, bills introduced by a minority party rarely become law in Ontario. Wong-Tam is a member of the opposition New Democratic Party.

The text of Bill 86, the Advisory Committee to Protect Ontario's People and Economy from Airborne Pandemics Act, is available from the website of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.