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Air quality


Health Canada estimates that outdoor air pollution contributes to 1,900 premature deaths  per year in British Columbia, in addition to almost 300,000 days of asthma symptoms and 4 million days of acute respiratory symptoms among British Columbians. The total economic cost of all health impacts attributable to air pollution in BC is $14 billion per year (2016 estimates). 

Air Pollution and Health 

Research suggests that there is no safe level of exposure to some air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides, and for this reason we should reduce exposure as much as we can.  

An individual's response to air pollution will depend on factors including the type and amount of air pollution they are exposed to, how long they are exposed, and their pre-existing health conditions and age.

Well-studied health impacts from exposure to certain air pollutants include:

  • headache and eye, nose and throat irritation
  • asthma onset and exacerbation
  • respiratory infections
  • lung cancer
  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • death

Recent studies have also found that exposure to some air pollutants may be linked to:

  • reduced lung function
  • pre-term birth
  • low-birth weight
  • childhood obesity
  • cognitive development
  • mental health outcomes
  • dementia
  • diabetes 

Populations Most at Risk

Some people are more exposed to air pollution than others, including people who live, work or play close to busy roads or industry and people who live in areas where wood-burning stoves or fireplaces are used.

Children, older adults, infants, pregnant people and those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions are more at risk for health effects from exposure to air pollution.   

Outdoor Air Pollutants in our Region

Outdoor air pollution can come in many different forms. In addition to regional sources of air pollution, there can be sources in your neighbourhood that can affect your local air quality. Some of the common health-harming air pollutants and sources in our region include:

  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Sources include wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, wildfires, heavy-duty equipment, industry, and traffic
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx). Sources include traffic, heavy-duty equipment, building heating that burns fossil fuels, industry
  • Ground-level ozone (O3). Formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react with each other on hot, sunny days.
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2). Sources include marine vessels that burn sulphur-containing fuels, petroleum refinery and cement manufacturing
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC). Sources include paints and chemicals, trees and vegetation, traffic.

Air Quality Health Index, Advisories and Data

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a tool designed to help people understand how they can protect themselves when outdoor air quality is particularly poor.  Current information on the air quality health index and outdoor air quality data from across the province can be viewed on the BC Air Quality Index map.

Air quality advisories are posted on the following websites:

Complaints regarding outdoor air quality can be directed to Metro Vancouver or the Ministry of Environment depending on your location. Visit the make an air quality complaint page on the Meto Vancouver website for contact information. 

Specific guidance for what to do during a wildfire smoke episode on our wildfire smoke page.

Air quality programs in your area

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