Air quality and your health

Family riding bikes
No matter who you are, where you live or the state of your health, the quality of the air you breathe each day affects you. Even when you can't see it or smell it, air pollution can still be a threat.

If you have concerns about the effects of air pollution on your health, consult your health care provider. 

Please select from the options below to learn more about air pollution and health.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a broad term applied to all chemical and biological agents that change the natural characteristics of the atmosphere causing harm to health or the environment. Air pollution comes from many different sources (i.e. factories, industrial processes, burning of fossil fuels, cars, long-range transport, smoke from wood stoves and backyard burning, as well as natural sources such as forest fires). These sources release a wide variety of pollutants into the air, affecting the quality of our air.

How does air pollution affect your health?

Adolescent qui utilise un inhalateur.
There are many different types of air pollutants. Several things determine the way air pollution affects your health; the length of time you are exposed, your health status, your genetic makeup, and the concentration of pollutants. Air pollution can have a negative effect on your (lungs and airways) and on your (heart function and blood circulation) by:
  • make it harder to breathe,
  • irritating your respiratory system,
  • triggering episodes of asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD); chronic bronchitis and emphysema, 
  • triggering episodes of heart conditions (angina, heart attack, heart failure and heart rhythm problems).

Of course, each individual will react differently to air pollution. Check if you are in the "At Risk" population. It is known, however, that negative health effects increase as air pollution worsens.  Studies show that even modest increases in air pollution can cause small but measurable increases in emergency room visits, hospitals admissions and death.  In fact, even small increases in air pollution levels for short periods of time can exacerbate illness among sensitive or at-risk people.

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How do I know if I am at risk?

Follow this guide to determine if you are at risk.

Some illnesses increase the impact of air pollutants.  These include people with respiratory disease (e.g. asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, etc.), cardiovascular disease (e.g. angina, history of heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia, etc.), and diabetes (because of its relationship with heart disease).


Not only do children have less developed respiratory systems, but they also inhale more air per kilogram of body weight compared to adults.  Children also tend to be more exposed to air pollution because they spend more time outdoors being physically active.

The Elderly

Seniors may also be at increased risk, not simply because of their age, but because seniors are more likely than other adults to have health problems such as heart and lung disease.

General Population

Even healthy people may have difficulty breathing when air pollution levels are high especially those who work or exercise outside.

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