Air Quality

The quality of the air we breathe can affect our health. Most of the air pollution we live with on a day-to-day basis is created by vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions. Several of these sources of air pollution also generate greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Smog, the grey-brown haze that sometimes occurs on hot days, is a term to describe air pollution. It is formed when air pollution mixes with dust, sunlight, and heat. 

Health Effects of Air Pollution

Air quality has a direct impact on our health. The impact of air pollution and smog will vary depending on factors such as:

  • The concentration of pollutants
  • The frequency and duration of exposure
  • A person's age and general health status

Poor air quality can:

  • Cause difficulty breathing (coughing and wheezing)
  • Irritate eyes, nose and throat
  • Aggravate existing medical conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and angina

People with existing heart and lung conditions, older adults, and children are at higher risk for negative health effects. These may also occur in healthy people, particularly those who work and exercise outdoors.

Monitoring Local Air Quality

The air quality health index (AQHI) is a scale to help you understand the impact of air quality on your health. 

The AQHI measures air quality on a scale from 1 to 10 as well as assigns categories (low, moderate, high, or very high) for the associated health risk.

 

Air Quality Health Index Health Risk Level General Population At Risk Population*
1-3 Low Ideal air quality for outdoor activities Enjoy your usual outdoor activities
4-6 Moderate No need to modify your usual outdoor activities unless you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation. Consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you are experiencing symptoms.
7-10 High Consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation. Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors. Children and the elderly should also take it easy.
Above 10 Very High Avoid strenuous activities outdoors. Children and the elderly should also avoid outdoor physical exertion. Avoid strenuous activities outdoors. Children and the elderly should also avoid outdoor physical exertion.

 *People with heart or breathing problems are at greater risk. Follow your doctor's advice about exercising and managing your condition.

To monitor the day-to-day AQHI for Waterloo Region, visit Kitchener Air Quality Health Index.

Air Quality Advisories 

A Special Air Quality Statement (SAQS) will be issued if a high risk air quality health index (AQHI) is forecasted for Waterloo Region for one to two hours.

A Smog and Air Health Advisory (SAHA) will be issued if a high risk air quality health index (AQHI) is forecasted for Waterloo Region for more than three hours.

Protecting Yourself

You can protect yourself when air quality is low by:

  • Checking your local air quality forecast or daily air quality health index (AQHI)
  • Avoiding or reducing the amount of time spent outside, especially during the late afternoon
  • Avoiding or reducing exercise near busy streets
  • Staying indoors in a cool environment if possible

Call your doctor or go to the nearest hospital if you experience significant breathing problems.

You can improve air quality in your community if you:

  • Choose active transportation, carpooling or transit
  • Walk your children to school instead of driving
  • Turn lights off when not in use
  • Avoid drive-thrus to prevent idling
  • Reduce wood fires, do not burn leaves or trash
Additional Resources

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