Clean Air Day in Canada

Clean Air Day is June 7, 2023. This is a day to recognize how important good air quality is to our health, our environment, and the economy.

With the early onset of wildfire season this year, many of us have witnessed how air pollution can impact both urban and rural communities. Take time today to learn about the impacts of air pollution on our health and what you can do to protect it, as well as what we can individually do to reduce our own emissions for cleaner air.

Clean Air Day was first celebrated in 1999 when Canada declared it an annual celebration during Canadian Environment Week.

Air pollution knows no boundaries. It can affect every area of Canada including urban and rural areas. That's why this year's theme is "Clean Air Everywhere".

Canada's air quality has improved significantly over the last several decades. There is, however, still room for improvement. Air pollution impacts the health of many people in Canada, contributing to over 15,000 premature deaths each year.

Air pollution can travel far from its source. For example, wildfire smoke, a major source of air pollution in Canada during the summer months, can affect air quality in rural and urban areas thousands of kilometres away from the fire zone. Wood-burning appliances contribute to air pollution in many rural and urban locations, and air pollutant emissions can impact both indoor and outdoor air quality. Sources of pollution in urban centres include vehicles, construction and gardening equipment, and industries.

Most people understand that urban areas are impacted by air pollution due to sources such as transportation and buildings. However, rural communities deal with air pollution as well. In rural areas of Canada, some key sources of air pollution include industries, burning and agriculture.  Together, we're working to improve air quality across the country, but there is still more that needs to be done.

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Watch Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada experts discuss air quality, major sources of air pollution and ways to protect our health.


Jean-François Dufault (Environment and Climate Change Canada): Hello, everyone. My name is Jean-François Dufault from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Today is Clean Air Day. As many parts of Canada continue to battle wildfires and be impacted by the air quality issues from it, we recognize the importance of clean air for our health and the environment. I'm here today with Norm Meyer, Head of Research and Programs at Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Carlyn Matz, a health and air quality specialist from Health Canada.

Welcome to the both of you.

We will be talking about air quality, major sources of air pollution and ways to protect health against air pollutants. To start us off, Norm, can you tell us a bit about where the major sources of air pollution come from in Canada?

Norm Meyer (Environment and Climate Change Canada): Absolutely. Really, it depends on the pollutants, but the biggest sources of emissions come from the transportation sector, the oil and gas sector, mining and agriculture. I invite you to read Canada's Air Pollution Inventory report. It tracks 17 air pollutants that contribute to smog, acid rain, diminished air quality by every sector of the economy.

Now, individually, we all contribute to overall emissions by the choices that we make every day. For example, you know that using a gas-powered lawn and garden equipment such as chainsaws, mowers and leaf blowers are a major source of air pollution in urban settings. In fact, using a gas lawnmower for one hour is roughly the equivalent of driving a car 480 kilometers. Other big contributors come from burning wood, either homes and from wildfire smoke that's becoming a growing concern with climate change. In that vein, research is ongoing at Environment and Climate Change Canada in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada. Instead of the impact of wildfires, its transport and transformation and its effect on weather.

In addition, the collaboration also continues with Health Canada to understand wildfire smoke exposure and its impact to human health. A growing number of wildfires, significantly increases air pollution levels, affecting people all across Canada as smoke travels long distances.

Dufault: And we definitely see those effects today, especially in the National Capital Region. Carlyn, can you tell us a little bit about how air pollution from these types of sources can affect our health?

Carlyn Matz (Health Canada): Thank you, Jean-Francois, great question. So, even at low levels, air pollution can have an impact on human health. Exposure to air pollution can cause numerous health effects, including heart and lung problems, allergies resulting in increased visits to doctors and hospitalizations as well as cancer and even premature death. So, at Health Canada, we estimate that annually air pollution in Canada contributes to over 15,000 premature deaths and millions of days of asthma symptoms or other respiratory symptoms. And this has an overall economic cost of about $120 billion a year. So, it's a really important issue for us here in Canada.

This health burden is associated with natural sources of air pollution, such as wildfires and human made sources. This year, we've seen how wildfire smoke is an issue for people living in areas close to the wildfires themselves, so if you think about Alberta and Nova Scotia recently, but also people living in other regions and provinces, as the smoke can travel with prevailing winds.

Nationally, we look at human-made sources contributing to the health burden. This includes home firewood burning and on-road transportation, such as cars, trucks and busses as two of the main contributors.

Dufault: And even if air pollution can affect us all, is there anyone that should be more aware of these health risks?

Matz: Yeah, also another great question. So, some people are at risk or more risk to the health effects of air pollution, such as seniors, infants and young children, also pregnant people and people with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma or diabetes, and of course, people that are active outdoors. So, if you think about today, anyone working outside or conducting active transportation outside with the air quality the way it is here in the national capital region would be at greater risk. So, although levels of air pollution are low in Canada compared to many other countries, it is important that we continue to address air quality issues and reduce the risk for everyone living here.

Dufault: That's really something to think about, and it's really something that everyone in Canada needs to think about, and it affects us essentially. Fortunately for every one of us, we can do something right to reduce the air pollution and protect the air we breathe.

Norm, getting back to you, can you tell us your top tips that you would recommend to limit air pollution in our own communities?

Meyer: Yeah, absolutely. I mentioned earlier about lawn and garden equipment. Canadians should consider switching to electric models of lawnmowers and leaf blowers. One of the reasons is typically also we have very aging lawnmowers or chainsaws or leaf blowers that we're still using year upon year. The performance of electric models is comparable to gas powered models, prices are competitive. Lastly there are also manual options that are great, that give you a bit of a workout. When it comes to personal transportation, if it's possible for you, you should consider switching to an electric vehicle. Not having those tailpipe emissions in an urban setting is advantageous. Transportation is the second largest contributor to emissions in Canada overall.

Additionally, not a popular choice in my family, but lowering your thermostat by one or two degrees in the winter and raising it by one or two degrees for air conditioning purposes in the summer are low hanging fruit and an added benefit is this will also save you money. Also, you can replace a woodstove or furnace with a heat pump. This will improve your indoor air quality. It's especially important during wildfire smoke seasons to keep your home cool and the windows likely need to be closed as well. Most Canadians are eligible currently for a heat pump rebate.

Dufault: That's great. Those are some really good tips, Norm.

Carlyn, turning to you. Can you tell us your top tips on your side on how we can limit our exposure to air pollution in our communities?

Matz: Yes, I'm glad to help and provide some examples. We can take simple actions to reduce our contribution to air pollution, such as using a carpool or take public transportation and when possible, to bike or walk more often, if these are reasonable ways to get around on your daily trips or your events for the day. Also, we can reduce our risk from air pollution exposure by choosing to do outdoor activities away from busy roads and consulting the Air Quality Health Index or the AQHI. The AQHI is tool designed to help everyone understand air quality and its health risks associated with the local air pollution in your area, so it can help you to make decisions before engaging in outdoor activities depending on the level of air pollution.

So, with the wildfire smoke having a big impact on the air quality across Canada this year and specifically today, like we mentioned for the NCR, I've been reminding my friends and family to check the AQHI before going outdoors unless necessary. I've even told my parents that the gardening and yard work can wait for a day when the AQHI is low and the air quality is better. As for today with the wildfires and smoke in many parts of the country, it's critical to check the AQHI for your area. Actions you can take during wildfire smoke events include protecting your indoor air. This includes things like keeping your windows and doors closed, using a good quality air filter on your HVAC system and using recirculation setting to prevent smoke from entering your home. You can also use a portable air filter or portable air purifier to improve your indoor air quality. If you're out driving, keep your vehicle windows closed and set the ventilation to recirculate as well to keep the smoke from coming into the inside of your vehicle.

Lastly, we should look at limiting outdoor activity and strenuous physical activity as much as possible. If you need to go outdoors, wear an N95 or equivalent, check in on elderly neighbours and family members, those who are maybe more prone to the health effects of air pollution, and during these times, our stress may be up, so be sure to take care of your mental health.

Dufault: That's perfect. Thank you very much for those really helpful tips from the both of you. On a more personal level, I'll start with Norm, could you tell me what Clean Air Day means to you?

Meyer: Yeah, absolutely. For me, it's really a time to reflect on how lucky we are to live in Canada. I've had the good fortune of being able to live in other parts of the world with much poorer air quality. So, there's work still to do in Canada. Canada needs to keep contributing on a world stage to improve air quality. We share the air and pollutants have no borders.

Dufault: Definitely.

Turning to you, Carlyn, what does Clean Air Day mean to you?

Matz: Well, for me personally, I like to say that every day is Clean Air Day, but as a day it's important. It gives us a chance to recognize the importance of air quality to our health, the environment and the economy. I do talk about air quality pretty much every day with my family and friends, and I work on related issues every day here in the office, but today I really get to promote it with everyone in Canada. So that's why Clean Air Day is special for me.

Dufault: Definitely. Well, thank you so much to the both of you for taking the time out of your busy day to share your expertise to help reduce air pollution and to better protect ourselves against their effects on our health. Thank you so much. Let's all remember that every individual action we take to reduce emissions has a large impact collectively on the environment. As we work to reduce emissions, these actions will also help improve air quality while making a positive impact on fighting climate change.

Did you know?

  • Canada’s air quality is consistently ranked among the cleanest in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The Government of Canada has implemented measures to reduce air pollution and maintain air quality by reducing air pollution from vehicles, power plants and other industries, as well as consumer and commercial products.  We work closely with provincial and territorial governments to implement Canada’s Air Quality Management System. Initiatives of municipalities and the actions of individuals also contribute.
  • Today, air pollution is a leading environmental cause of death and illness in Canada, resulting in an estimated 15,300 deaths a year, with an economic value of $120 billion annually.
  • Air pollution can travel far distances from the source. For example, harmful pollutants from wildfire smoke can travel thousands of kilometers from the fire zone.
  • Using wood stoves and backyard fire pits can contribute to air pollution inside and outside your home. Currently, residential wood combustion contributes to a similar number of air pollution health impacts as all transportation sources combined.
  • Small gas engines such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers cause a lot of air pollution. For example, one hour of lawnmower use is equivalent to driving 480 km.
  • Many sectors that emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change also emit air pollutants. Actions taken in Canada to mitigate climate change can have important air pollution health co-benefits.
  • Some people are more vulnerable to air pollution, including children, the elderly, individuals with underlying diseases and those with higher exposures.

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