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⚕️ New Public Alert Makes it Easier to Understand Air Quality Conditions During Wildfire Events and Year-Round

Wednesday, 05 June 2024 02:27.PM

Clean air is crucial to our daily health and wellbeing. While Canadians generally benefit from good air quality, seasonal increases in air pollutants, including smog and wildfire smoke, can significantly impact air quality conditions. Last year, Canada experienced its worst season of wildfire events on record, which impacted Canada's air quality and increased health risks, especially for people with underlying health conditions.

In response to public feedback during last year's wildfire events, Environment and Climate Change Canada launched improvements to its air quality forecast and alert system. A new Air Quality Advisory with a red banner notification is now a feature on and the WeatherCan application. The Air Quality Advisory is issued to notify the public when the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is above 10 for three or more hours during wildfire smoke events. This alert represents very high-risk levels, which are typically only experienced due to smoke from wildfire events, and will provide a clear visual cue to Canadians about the severity of the air quality. In addition, when wildfire smoke is greatly reducing air quality, the AQHI is calculated and reported hourly using only fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is the dominant pollutant in wildfire smoke.

The AQHI is a scale used to help people understand what the quality of the air around them means for their health. Canadians can consult the AQHI to make informed decisions on how to protect themselves and loved ones from poor air quality. Prior to the implementation of the Air Quality Advisory, a Special Air Quality Statement was the only alert when the AQHI was seven or higher. The addition of the new advisory, which alerts Canadians when the AQHI exceeds a rating of 10 for three or more hours during wildfire smoke events, creates a two-tiered alerting system. Both alerts contain updated health messaging developed in collaboration with Health Canada.

In late July, Environment and Climate Change Canada will also be launching four new air quality forecast maps on its Wildfire Smoke Prediction System web page (FireWork). One will show smoke from forest and vegetation wildfires. The others will show total PM2.5, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide from wildfires. All maps will show how the pollutants are expected to move across Canada and North America. The online redesign will be more user friendly, allowing the public to easily access information on the predicted movement of key air pollutants. The new maps will also provide better colour distinction and gradation, improving their visual accessibility.

Clean Air Day, happening today, is an opportunity to learn about air pollution, its impacts on our health and what you can do to protect yourself.

"People in Canada take action every day to protect our air quality and their health. During wildfire events, air quality conditions change rapidly beyond anyone's control as smoke plumes move across communities and the country. Improving the alert system supports our government's commitment to inform Canadians about the adverse effects of wildfire smoke and to communicate how to reduce exposure."
– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Quick facts

• In 2023, during wildfire season, Canada had twice as many days with poor air quality compared to 2021 and eleven times as many days with poor air quality compared to 2020.
• The AQHI is calculated based on the relative risks of a combination of common air pollutants that are known to harm human health. The pollutants used to calculate a rolling three-hour average and reported hourly are ground-level ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM2.5/PM10), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
• The AQHI is also generated using fire weather and vegetation information from Natural Resources Canada.
• The WeatherCan application can be set up to send notifications when the AQHI reaches three and higher.
• Special Air Quality Statements will continue to be issued when the AQHI reaches seven to 10.

SOURCE: Environment and Climate Change Canada