Why the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) should matter to you?

I think we can all agree that the air we breathe is pretty important but, just like many of you, I often take it for granted.  When we talk about “air”, the conversation tends to focus on air conditioning or air travel.  Air is just…there, free and invisible, its a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately this laid-back, casual mindset may contribute to the many environmental issues we experience today.

There is a scale called the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and we should start paying more attention to it.

Here’s why: The AQHI  sheds light on the quality of the air we breath today–an amazing tool to help us protect our health when the air outdoor is poor.  Additionally, it gives us an idea on what pollutants are in the air and how we can work towards changing that. Without clean air to breathe, we will continue to see an increase in sickness due to air pollution.  It is estimated that each year in Halton, air pollution contributes to approximately:

  • 336 premature deaths;
  • 540 hospital admissions;
  • 2,010 emergency room visits; and
  • 1 million minor illness days

(Ontario Medical Association, 2005, 2008)

We currently have three air quality testing stations in Halton that measure nasty things like ground-level ozone, fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.   Each municipality in Halton receives an air quality health index number based on these readings.  You can now receive your local AQHI forecast straight to your mobile device, in addition to Halton’s e-alerts for smog, air health advisories and heat events to help you prepare for the day ahead.

To navigate the AQHI, a simple scale from 1-10+ is used.  Measurements between 1 and 3 are the lowest risk.  When the AQHI is greater than 7 for more than three hours during the day, a smog and air health advisory is issued.

Planning a day outside using the AQHI  is helpful for everyone including groups who are most at risk from poor air quality like children, older adults and anyone with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart or lung disease.   Knowing the numbers can help you to schedule (or reschedule) your activities on days when AQHI readings are high.

Air pollution and the AQHI go hand in hand, so “be the change” and work together at reducing your family’s contribution to air pollution.  There are plenty of ways to do this such as: cycling, walking or carpooling to work as well as adjusting your thermostat at home. The earlier our children learn about climate change and air quality, the more equipped they will be to make better choices in the future.  Our amazing kids books called Owls for Climate Change are a fun and informative way to teach your kids!  So take a deep breath…and pledge to make a difference today for you and your children.

Tell us how you are making a difference!

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) s.imply dial 311 or 905-825-6000

About Carolyn Wilkie, RN

For most of my nursing years I have been out in the community supporting new parents on their fabulous and sometimes crazy journey into parenthood! I love working as part of the HaltonParents team. I have 2 sweet boys, who continue to amaze and surprise me everyday. So glad we could connect.
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