Outdoor air pollution and health: Overview

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About outdoor air pollution

Outdoor air pollution comes from a variety of sources, and even at low levels, has an impact on human health. It leads to disease, increased hospitalizations and even premature death.

Outdoor air pollution is a complex mixture of gas and particles, including:

Air pollution from diesel and gasoline exhaust

Diesel and gasoline exhausts are key human-made sources of outdoor air pollution. Any vehicle or engine that uses diesel fuel or gasoline produces exhaust. These include:

  • cars
  • ships
  • boats
  • buses
  • trains
  • trucks
  • jet skis
  • chainsaws
  • generators
  • motorcycles
  • lawnmowers
  • snowmobiles
  • transport trucks
  • all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)
  • construction, mining or agriculture equipment

Did you know…

Of all cars, trucks and buses used in Canada, about 92% use gasoline and 8% use diesel? However, diesel vehicles contribute to more than 50% of some key air pollutant emissions from all on-road vehicles in Canada.

Most people in Canada are exposed to air pollution every day while inside and outside their homes. Even though air pollution levels are low in Canada compared to those in other countries, addressing issues of air quality remains a priority for us.

You can take action to reduce air pollution in your community. Learn more about how you can help make the air cleaner and healthier for everyone.

Air quality modeling is a mathematical simulation of how air pollutants disperse and react in the atmosphere to affect outdoor air quality. We use air quality modeling to:

Health impacts of air pollution overall in Canada

We estimate that every year in Canada, air pollution is linked to:

We estimate the socio-economic costs of the health impacts of air pollution in Canada at $120B per year (based on 2016 currency).

Our analysis uses the best available health and air quality data for Canada.

We determine ambient levels of the pollutants using:

We estimate the exposure to air pollution in Canada by combining air pollution and population distribution maps. We use mathematical equations for associations between air pollution and health effects to estimate the:

This method is similar to those used by other health organizations, both in Canada and internationally.

You can download a technical report on the health impacts of air pollution in Canada.

Health impacts of wildfire smoke-related air pollution

Wildfires are a key natural source of outdoor air pollution in Canada. We estimate that in recent years in Canada, air pollution from wildfire smoke contributed to:

We estimate the annual cost of the health impacts of wildfire smoke-related air pollution in Canada at $5 billion to $21 billion.

Health impacts of traffic-related air pollution

Traffic-related air pollution affects all people in Canada. We estimate the socio-economic cost of health impacts of traffic-related air pollution in Canada at $9.5B per year, based on 2015 currency.

Learn about the health impact of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP).

Contact us

For more information on air pollution, please contact us:

Email: air@hc-sc.gc.ca
Telephone: 1-833-223-1014 (toll free)

Subscribe to the air quality email subscription list.

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