Toronto Transit Commission workers should be allowed to wear masks to protect themselves from poor air quality in the city’s subway system, according to the union that represents front-line employees.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 released a new video on Tuesday, which draws attention to a recent study into the air quality in the subway system and criticizes the TTC for refusing to address the problem or even allow employees to wear protective masks.

The University of Toronto and Health Canada study found that the average amount of particulate matter in Toronto’s subway tunnels and platforms is equivalent to the air quality of smog-prone Beijing on an average day.

“For far too long, the TTC has ignored its workforce’s longstanding concerns about subway air pollution. Through our new video, we want more Torontonians to understand the significant health risks subway workers are exposed to on a daily basis – sometimes up to 12 hours a day,” ATU Local 113 Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Morton said in a press release. “No matter what the TTC says, it’s unacceptable for subway workers to sneeze and cough out filthy black dust after a shift. The TTC needs to acknowledge there is a problem and act now to protect workers.”

The study into the air quality in Toronto’s subway system was conducted in 2010 and 2011 but was only released on April 25.

One day after the release of the study four TTC workers were sent home after they showed up for their shifts wearing medical masks.

At the time, the TTC said that the Ministry of Labour was called in to investigate and ruled that the air quality is “not likely to endanger” workers.

The union, however, has said that employees who have concerns about the air quality in the subway system should be allowed to wear protective masks.

Furthermore, the union has said that the TTC was participating in an illegal lockout when it prevented the employees who wished to wear masks from doing their jobs.

Speaking with CP24 on Tuesday afternoon, Morton said that the TTC has been guilty of “willful blindness” by not conducting an air quality test of its own since 1995.

Morton said that the transit commission is putting employees at risk by preventing them from wearing masks designed to keep out particulate matter.

“It is a PR ploy,” he said. “They just don’t want you to think there is something wrong when there is.”

Morton said that the union plans to complete its own air quality testing to determine the extent of the problem.

Meanwhile, the video is being released to raise awareness about the problem and to pressure the TTC into taking action.

“They have done all kinds of studies on improvements in delivery of service, customer service, whatever you want to call but nothing to improve safety,” Morton said.

The TTC is not commenting on the video or Morton’s criticism and instead referred CP24 to a May 4 statement from their chief safety officer.

That statement noted that the TTC is “proactively exploring means” to reduce air pollution, including “improved ventilation in trains and active removal of dust and other detritus at track level.”

The release of the two-minute video comes one week ahead of a meeting between the union and management to discuss the air quality issue.