Canada Launches World's First Air Quality Health Index Program

The government of Canada will spend $30 million to establish the world's first National Air Quality Health Index and to expand the Air Quality Forecast Program to support this new initiative.

John Baird, the minister of the environment, and Tony Clement, the minister of health, made the announcement July 9, 2007, in Toronto. For the past 18 months, Canada has been testing the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI). That pilot will serve as the model for the national program's development.

"We promised Canadians we would clean up the air we breathe and improve our health," said Baird. "Our investment in this personal health protection tool will provide Canadians with current and forecasted local air quality information that they can use to take actions to reduce risks posed by air pollution."

Canada's Air Quality Health Index, found at www.weatheroffice.gc.ca, is the world's first index to communicate the health risks associated with the mixture of air pollutants we breathe and to provide protective health advice to reduce that risk. The index assesses the impact of air pollution on health, listing a number from 1 to 10+ to indicate the level of immediate health risk associated with local air quality. When the amount of air pollution is very high, that number may be above 10. The higher the number, the greater the public risk. The index describes the level of health risk associated with these numbers as low (1-3), moderate (4-6), high (7-10), or very high (over 10), and suggests steps to reduce health exposure. In addition to having current air quality health information, a forecast is provided for the next day.

With federal funding of $30 million over the next four years, the AQHI will be rolled out to mid- and large-sized communities across the country. Municipal and provincial partnerships will be key to the program's success.

The Toronto pilot project builds on the successful pilots in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

The Air Quality Health Index is the latest tool Canada's government has introduced to combat air pollution. In April, it launched "Turning the Corner: An Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution." Part of these regulatory measures will be the requirement that industry cut air pollution by 50 percent by 2015.

For more information about the Canada's environmental initiatives, visit: www.ecoaction.gc.ca.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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