"We are the people who really carry that burden," Bezner said. "We feel the real effects and frankly, we're worried about them."
A study led by researcher Denis Corr, chair of Clean Air Hamilton, showed there are indeed significant disparities in health effects at the neighbourhood level.
Corr, formerly with Ontario's environment ministry, took a mobile air monitoring station to a number of neighbourhoods around the city to collect data.
Overall, Corr found that across the entire city, Hamilton residents had a 4 per cent increased risk of premature death for all air pollutants combined.
But at the neighbourhood level, parts of the city had nearly double the risk of premature death compared to Hamilton's overall rate.
The neighbourhood around the Eva Rothwell Centre on Wentworth Street North, the area around Jones Road and Arvin Avenue in Stoney Creek, and the Nebo Road area all had increased premature death risks near 8 per cent.
Corr noted there are about 185 premature deaths caused by air pollution in Hamilton annually.
"Of those 185 people who are dying of air pollution in Hamilton, it really looks like it's particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that are killing them," Corr said.
What isn't known, he added, is the proportion of those deaths that are being caused by cancer versus respiratory-related ailments, such as asthma.
The study also found that wind direction can have a significant effect on health impacts and the risk of premature death.
For much of the lower central city, risks are notably higher when the wind blows from the northeast because of Hamilton's unique geography. With the escarpment acting like a catcher's mitt, pollutants can become trapped over the lower city.
Several of the speakers noted that no one from the environment ministry attended the summit despite being invited to participate.