Air Quality and Health

There are many different types of air pollutants from a wide range of sources. The pollutants of greatest importance to health are the gases and particles that have been found to contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease (nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone and particulate matter). These pollutants are often lumped together under the term "smog".

Air Pollution and Your Health

Depending on the length of time you are exposed, your health status, your genetic background and the concentration of pollutants, air pollution can:

  • Irritate your lungs and airways
  • Make it harder to breathe
  • Worsen chronic diseases such as heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma

Negative health effects increase as air pollution worsens. Small increases in air pollution over a short period of time can increase symptoms of pre-existing illness among those at risk.

Air quality has an impact on the health of the general public and the at risk population who are more susceptible.

What can I do to protect my health and the health of my family?

Refer to the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) regularly to check the air quality in your community before heading outside.

When the AQHI reading rises or you experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, coughing or irritated eyes, you can decide whether you need to:

  1. Reduce or reschedule outdoor physical activities
  2. Monitor possible symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, coughing or irritated eyes
  3. Activate a personal health plan or consult a physician or health care provider

You can keep up-to-date on health advisories related to air quality and other health issues on the Alberta Health Services website at:

How do I Know if I am at Risk?

Parents holding hands with daughter
Man stretching leg outdoors
Girl with inhaler outdoors
Elderly couple on bicycles

Each individual reacts differently to air pollution. Small increases in air pollution over a short period of time can increase symptoms of pre-existing illness among those at risk. The at-risk population generally includes:

  • Children are more vulnerable to air pollution because they have less-developed respiratory and defense systems, are smaller in size, inhale more air per kilogram of body weight than adults, and they generally spend more time outdoors being physically active
  • People participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors breathe more deeply and rapidly, allowing more air pollution to enter their lungs
  • People with lung disease (such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, or lung cancer), heart disease (such as angina, a history of heart attacks, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat), and diabetes are more sensitive to air pollution
  • Seniors are at higher risk because of weakening of the heart, lungs and immune system and increased likelihood of health problems such as heart and lung disease

Reducing Air Pollution

We all affect air quality. There are actions everyone can take to reduce air pollution, and keep the air cleaner and healthier for people to breathe.

When the AQHI is in the High or Very High-risk category, each of us can change our actions to pollute less. We can:

  • Burn less (fireplace, fire pit)
  • Carpool
  • Idle less
  • Reduce energy usage
  • Take transit, bike or walk

For more information see:

 

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Updated: Aug 9, 2017