Health Canada reminds people to be Air Aware

There are many different types of air pollutants from a wide range of sources that contribute to poor air quality.

  • Jun. 16, 2012 12:00 p.m.

The issue:

Canada’s natural environment offers many opportunities to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Most Canadians don’t need to change their plans to enjoy the great outdoors because of air pollution, but some people may need to reduce their risk by taking appropriate precautions.

When you’re making plans to exercise outdoors, enjoy a barbeque or take your kids to the park, remember to check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in your area first.

What is poor air quality?There are many different types of air pollutants from a wide range of sources that contribute to poor air quality. The pollutants of greatest importance to health are the gases and particles that are often lumped together under the term smog.

What is the Air Quality Health Index?The AQHI provides a simple, easy-to-use, one-to-10 rating scale which includes a number and message that explains what it means for the general public or for a member of high risk groups such as seniors and those with asthma or cardiovascular disease. The higher the number, the higher the risk. If the number is low, it’s the best time for most people to get outside and enjoy their favourite activities.

Simply log on to at any time to check the AQHI levels in your area and plan your day accordingly.

Health Effects from Poor Outdoor Air QualityDepending on the length of time you are exposed, your health status, your genetic background and the concentration of pollutants in your area, air pollution can make it harder to breathe, irritate your eyes, nose and throat, worsen chronic diseases such as heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.


What are the symptoms?

  • People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may notice an increase in coughing, wheezing, phlegm or shortness of breath.
  • People with heart failure may experience increased shortness of breath.
  • People with heart rhythm problems may notice increased fluttering in the chest and feeling light-headed.
  • People with angina or coronary artery disease may have an increase in chest or arm pain.


People who are otherwise healthy may have the following symptoms:

  • increased mucus production in the nose or throat
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing especially during exercise.


Who is at risk?

  • People with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions
  • Young children
  • Seniors
  • People with diabetes
  • People participating in sports or strenuous outdoor activities


On days when air pollution levels are significantly elevated, even people not in the above groups may notice symptoms.

What is Health Canada doing?The Air Quality Health Index, developed by the Government of Canada in cooperation with partners and other levels of government, is the first index of its kind in the world to link air quality with health risk and it’s available in all 10 provinces, with more locations being added all the time.