Air quality and health

Learn about the impact of air pollutants on human health and what you can do to reduce your exposure.


Air pollutants can be from a wide range of sources. The AQHI is calculated based on the relative risks of a combination of ground-level ozone, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide. These common air pollutants are known to harm human health, and are often lumped together under the term “smog.”

Air Pollution and 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.

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

How to protect your health

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 through the following services:

Are you at risk?

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 defence 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
  • Pregnant women are encouraged to continue to exercise outdoors when the air quality is good, and pay attention to AQHI in the same way as if they were not pregnant

On days when air pollution levels are significantly elevated, even people not in the above groups may notice symptoms. If you are experiencing any health related symptoms, contact your doctor or family physician or call Health link at 811 any time to speak to a health professional.