The Canadian Lung Association: Air pollution has serious impact on lung health

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The Canadian Lung Association: Air pollution has serious impact on lung health

Saskatoon, May 31st, 2010 -- Even low levels of air pollution can affect lung health, according to the Canadian Lung Association, so Canadians should pay attention to pollution levels and take steps to protect themselves.


Clean Air Day reminds us to take action so we can breathe easier


“Clean air is vital to lung health and health overall. Outdoor air pollution irritates and inflames lung tissue. Even relatively low levels of air pollution can cause health problems, like asthma, ear infections, and heart disease” says Tony Hudson, chair of the Environmental Issues Working Group at the Canadian Lung Association.

“In Canada, we have very good air quality for the most part. Air pollution risk is small but a large number of people are exposed to it,” says Dr. Michael Brauer, a professor from the School of Environmental Health at the University of British Columbia. “The health effects of outdoor air pollution can be unnoticeable in the short term, but may have cumulative effects leading to long term problems.”

Air pollution is a contributing risk factor to developing chronic heart and lung disease and may even result in premature deaths. Health Canada estimates that air pollution causes about 6,000 deaths per year in 8 major Canadian cities.

For people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other long-term lung diseases, air pollution can make their symptoms worsen and cause flare-ups.

Even those living in rural areas and in cottage country can be affected, too. They may be exposed to pollutants like wood smoke and also breathe in pollutants that get blown by the wind from sources hundreds of kilometers away.

Natural emissions from forest and brush fires, as well as wind-blown dust from soil and volcanoes contribute to air pollution. However, human activities – including transportation, power generation, and factories – are responsible for most air pollution.

Who is at risk from health effects of air pollution?

Air pollution affects everyone's health. Certain people are at higher risk:

  • people with lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD
  • children
  • seniors
  • people with long-term health problems like heart disease or diabetes
  • pregnant women.

People who do vigorous activities outdoors, such as athletes, farmers and construction workers, are also at a higher risk. Even healthy people have more difficulty breathing on days when the air is highly polluted.

Individual reactions to air pollution depend on several factors, such as the type of pollutant, the degree of exposure and how much of the pollutant is present.


Tips to protect your lung health


The Canadian Lung Association has a list of steps people can take to protect themselves on days with high pollution levels. On hot smoggy days, people who exercise or work outdoors should try to stay away form heavy traffic, drink plenty of water, stay in the shade and take breaks indoors in clean, air conditioned places.

As well, the Association urges Canadians to follow the advice offered by the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), a monitoring program developed by the federal government that’s available in selected areas across Canada. The AQHI monitors air quality in regions across the country and offers advice on how to protect your health when air pollution is high. The AQHI gives special advice for people in high risk groups.

People with lung disease such as asthma or COPD should check the AQHI air quality index readings often and be prepared to take extra steps to protect themselves on high pollution days.

“If you know the AQHI will be high tomorrow, you can re-schedule your outdoor activities for another time,” says Dr. Alan Abelsohn, a physician-epidemiologist at Health Canada.

They should always follow the advice in their asthma action plan or COPD action plan, written instructions that explain how to adjust their treatments as symptoms change.

“My hope is that people will become as familiar with the AQHI as they are with the UV index,” says Dr. Abelsohn.

If you live outside the AQHI pilot areas, please contact your local public health office, Ministry of Environment air monitoring branch, or local lung association office for available local resources on air quality.


How to protect yourself on days with high pollution




How to reduce air pollution



All about outdoor air quality



Information on the Air Quality Index



Information on the Air Quality Health Index





About The Canadian Lung Association



Established in 1900, The Canadian Lung Association is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs, and advocacy on lung health issues


Year of the Lung


2010 has been declared the Year of the Lung, by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS). The goal of this global campaign is to raise awareness about lung health among the public, initiate action in communities worldwide, and advocate for resources to combat lung disease including increased investment in basic, clinical and translational research worldwide.


For additional information, please contact:
Janis Hass
Director of Marketing and Communications
The Canadian Lung Association
613- 569-6411 ext. 252

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Page Last Updated: 28/12/2017