Air pollution and air quality in Canada

Poor air quality poses a significant threat to our health. Air pollution is linked to increased incidences of stroke, heart disease and acute respiratory diseases. It can also worsen health issues such as asthma and diabetes, increase hospital admissions and emergency room visits, and can lead to premature deaths. The estimated economic cost of air pollution is $120 billion per year in Canada.

In addition to the threats to our health, air pollution also harms wildlife, vegetation, and ecosystems.

Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, and the National Research Council of Canada are working together to improve air quality and health in Canada, reduce emissions of air pollutants, and provide Canadians with the tools to make informed decisions to reduce their exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants.

Where does air pollution come from?

Outdoor air pollution comes from the emission of pollutants as a result of human activity or from natural occurrences. Air pollution can also form through chemical and physical interactions in our atmosphere. The effects of climate change is also influencing the quality of the air we breathe and air pollution can also influence climate.

Air pollutants are emitted from sources including energy production and consumption, industrial activities and manufacturing, transportation, and products we use every day, such as aerosols, adhesives, sealants. Once in the air, these pollutants interact with each other and can form other pollutants (e.g. ground level ozone). To find out more about the sources of air pollution, visit Sources of air pollution.

Common air contaminants that contribute to outdoor air pollution include sulphur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX), particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia (NH3). To find out more about these contaminants, visit Common air contaminants.

Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) also contribute to air pollution. SLCPs are a group of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, including methane and black carbon, that have a near-term warming impact on climate and can affect air quality. Visit Short-lived climate pollutants to find out more.

You can visit Air pollution: drivers and impacts to learn more.

Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) quick access

The AQHI is a scale designed to help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health. It is part of the Government of Canada’s daily weather forecasting and it indicates the health risks associated with local air quality on a scale of 1-10+, taking account of events like wildfire smoke and smog. The AQHI is available for communities across Canada.

Air pollution health effects - How to protect yourself

Most Canadians are more familiar with the risks from outdoor air pollution since it tends to be more visible. However, Canadians spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, so good indoor air quality is very important. To learn more about air pollutants found indoor and outdoor, the health effects of air pollution and other related topics, please visit the links below:

Wildfire smoke and your health

When wildfires burn through forests and grasslands, they produce dense smoke that can be a major source of air pollutants. This pollution contains fine particles that are not visible to the human eye that penetrate deep into our lungs and enter the bloodstream, sometimes leading to serious health effects. Due to our changing climate, recent wildfire seasons are lasting longer with more severe wildfires occurring.

Tools and resources are available for you to learn more about wildfire smoke and air quality and help you to protect your health.

Air quality trends and reports

The Government of Canada regularly publishes new information on air pollution and air quality to help you stay informed. Here are some useful links to information about pollutant emission trends and air quality improvements:

Protecting our air quality

The Government of Canada is working to improve air quality and keep Canadians safe from the harmful effects of air pollution. This includes working with partners to improve air quality and conducting air quality monitoring, undertaking scientific research, and producing air pollutant inventories. These activities help inform actions and measures needed to protect Canadians and our environment.

Please visit the Canada’s Actions on Air Quality page for more information.


Stay connected

To receive the latest news, studies, and information about the Government of Canada’s work in the area of air pollution and air quality, sign-up on our Air quality email subscription list.

To consult previous publications on health and the environment related to air quality, visit the following link: Publications – Healthy living.


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