Vancouver Coastal Health, in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, is providing low cost PM2.5 air quality sensors to communities with gaps in air quality monitoring across the VCH region. The data from these sensors allows residents to have better access to local data, to increase awareness of wildfire smoke and winter wood smoke conditions in their local community and to take action in response to local conditions.
The sensors provided by VCH measure fine particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is made up of tiny particles that float in the air. Major sources of PM2.5 in our region include wildfire smoke and smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Other sources of PM2.5 in our region include heavy-duty equipment, industry, and traffic.
These very small particles of pollution can travel deep into your lungs and into your bloodstream when you inhale and can cause irritation and inflammation throughout the body. Exposure over short or long terms can lead to a number of different health impacts including the aggravation of existing lung and heart diseases, increasing the risk of cancer, and reductions in life expectancy among many others.
Where can I find the data for this project?
The publically available data can be found in real-time on the UNBC hourly observations map. This map also contains data from other low-cost sensors across the region in addition to regulatory monitors.
Note that for this project some sensors are placed outdoors while others will be indoors. Make sure you read the name to determine if you are looking at an outdoor or indoor sensor.
How accurate are low-cost sensors?
Low cost sensors tend to perform well but are not regulatory sensors. At times these sensors may overestimate or underestimate the actual concentrations but do tend to follow the trend of the particulate matter concentrations. When interpreting the data it is important to consider the other low-cost sensors and regularity monitors that are close by on the map.
Regulatory monitors, although good for accurate measurement of PM2.5, do not have the spatial coverage to provide measurements to the majority of communities due to their high cost of equipment and maintenance. The advances in low-cost PM2.5 sensor technology has provided a cost-effective means of providing publically available real time PM2.5 data to communities that currently have gaps in monitoring. Visit the difference between sensors page on Metro Vancouver to learn more about the difference between small low-cost sensors and regulatory reference monitors visit
How to interpret the data?
The Air Quality Health Index is a tool the can be used to understand the actions to be taken based on the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations from these sensors, for people with different levels of underlying risk.
More information on actions to take when it is smoky outside can be found on our wildfire smoke page.
1-Hour 2.5PM2.5 (ug/m3)||
AQHI risk index||
Health message for people at higher risk||
Health message for general population||
Actions to reduce wildfire smoke exposure|
|0 - 10||1||
Enjoy your normal activities||
Ideal air quality for activities outdoors.||Normal air quality for British Columbia|
|11 - 20||2|
|21 - 30||3|
Consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you experience symptoms.|
No need to modify your usual activities outdoors unless you experience symptoms. |
- Use a portable air cleaner to reduce smoke in your home.
- Stay inside with doors and windows closed, but keep cool - being too hot is more risky than breathing smoke for most people.
- Visit places with cleaner air, such as libraries, community centres and shopping malls.
- If you cannot access cleaner air, consider using a well-fitted N95 respirator or relocating to a place with less smoke
|41 - 50||5|
|51 - 60||6|
|61 - 70||7||
Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors.||
Consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activies outdoors if you experience symptoms.|
|71 - 80||8|
|81 - 90||9|
|91 - 100||10|
If you are a First Nations community or local government within the VCH region and are interested in participating in this project please reach out to
The Strathcona Area Air Quality Study is a two-year study that will measure air quality in Strathcona and identify potential opportunities for improvement. The study is guided by a steering committee co-chaired by the Strathcona Residents Association and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority with representatives from City of Vancouver, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Metro Vancouver, University of British Columbia, and Vancouver Coastal Health.
More information about this study can be found on the Port of Vancouver Strathcona Area Air Quality Study project page.