Air pollution affects everybody, particularly the most at risk of harm: children, older adults and those with existing heart and lung conditions.
In British Columbia, we love to be outside and the air quality is generally quite good. But unhealthy short-term pollution spikes are not uncommon. It can vary based on how close you are to air pollution sources, season and time of day. Smoke from wildfires also adds to the burden.
The good news is there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself and others from outdoor air pollution:
- Check your local forecast for the latest air pollution readings to help plan your day and follow the advice given. The higher the score, the greater level of air pollution there is and the greater the health concern.
- On days when air quality is poor, take extra care, especially if you have a chronic health problem that affects your breathing. Consider doing less intense activities or moving your exercise indoors in a room or gym with filtered air.
- Limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors if the air quality is bad.
- Always avoid exercising near high-traffic areas, at least during rush hour. This will reduce your exposure to air pollution.
- During a wildfire event, seek cleaner air if possible and drink plenty of fluids. If working outdoors, consider wearing an N95 respirator mask. For more tips on how to stay safe and healthy during a wildfire, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control Wildfire Smoke page.
Having good indoor air quality is an important part of living or working in a healthy home or building. It makes you feel, perform and sleep better. Besides, we spend an average of 90 per cent of our time indoors, making the quality of air that we breathe very important.
Here’s how you can improve it as you spend time inside:
- Avoid smoking indoors, especially when children are present.
- Use lower-temperature, water-based cooking methods. Frying or grilling food needs a higher temperature. Instead of frying, cook by steaming, boiling, poaching, stewing, casseroling or braising, which create less air pollutants.
- Turn on an exhaust fan or open a window when you’re cooking or showering to help improve ventilation. Avoid opening windows during wildfire smoke events.
- Lower the amount of heating and cooling in your home by making sure your home is properly insulated.
- Make sure any appliances that burn wood, coal, kerosene or gas are working properly, ventilated and regularly maintained.
- Consider replacing a coal- or wood-burning heat source with an electric, natural gas or oil heat source, if possible. The B.C. Community Wood Smoke Reduction Program provides rebates for exchanging wood stoves for cleaner heating options.
- Test your home or building for radon levels.
Air pollution can be a problem for all of us, but some groups of people are especially sensitive to air pollutants:
- Children are the most affected by air pollution because their lungs are still developing and they spend more time playing outside. They also breathe faster than adults, taking in more pollutants each day.
- Older adults, because of weakening of the heart, lungs and immune system and increased likelihood of health problems such as heart and lung disease.
- People with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease including asthma.
People who live or work in polluted areas or close to a source of pollution may also have a higher risk of developing cancer over their lifetime. Industrial plants and high-traffic areas are commonly concentrated in communities where racialized and lower-income people live which places them at a higher risk.
We all have a role to play in cleaning up our air, our playgrounds and our cities. Choosing to walk, bike or take public transit rather than a car, particularly for short trips, can reduce your carbon footprint. As an added bonus, it’s also a great way to be more active!