Air Quality & Your Health

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The effects that air pollutants have on human health are significant, and the scientific evidence from epidemiologists and health researchers is showing that for some pollutants, there are no “safe” concentrations in the air. This research also shows that as concentrations increase, negative health impacts increase, but conversely, for every small improvement we make, there are health benefits.

Forecasting of the effect of air pollution on our health is carried out by Environment Canada for several areas of the province. The forecast location in this airshed is Whistler. Often when large-scale air stagnation events happen in summer, they affect the entire south coast region.

BC Ministry of Environment meteorologists predict when poor air quality events may occur. If an Air Quality Advisory is issued for the Sea-to-Sky/Howe Sound airshed, it will be broadcast it is distributed to local media, municipalities, and shown on the bcairquality.ca website

In 2003, the British Columbia Provincial Health Officer’s Report showed that for every 1 microgram per cubic meter reduction in ambient particulate matter concentrations (PM2.5), that 49 deaths per year could be delayed in the Greater Vancouver region alone. The report also estimated the number of emergency room visits per year attributable to air pollution in B.C. at approximately 1,000.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s Air Quality Management Plan was recently released (2010) and includes baseline assessments, identifies opportunities for improvement, and suggests strategies for implementation. Download it here (pdf).

In 2011, the BC Government released the BC Smoke Management Framework . The framework  partially fulfills Action 27 of the Air Action Plan  – “Make smoke-management a priority.”

The B.C. Smoke Management Framework outlines and describes a cross-government approach to reduce human exposure to smoke from biomass burning (i.e. wood smoke). Biomass smoke is a significant contributor to air pollution including fine particulate matter, which has known human health effects. This framework does not introduce any new policy or regulatory requirements; rather it compiles and unifies existing smoke management measures into one cohesive framework. The framework was produced by Ministry of Environment with the assistance of the Ministries of Agriculture; Energy and Mines; and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The following websites provide excellent resources on the links between air quality and health:

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

Air Quality Health Index of BC

Whistler Air Quality Health Index

UBC Border Air Quality Study

BC Lung Association State of the Air Reports

Air Quality and Health: Health Canada 2007 Report

 

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