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Help Canadians breathe more easily

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The air we breathe is an important factor in our quality of life, and Canadians rank air pollution issues among their main environmental concerns. Although we enjoy good air quality when compared to many other countries, evidence gathered over the last 10 years has increased concerns about the health effects of air pollutants.

Outdoor air contaminants come from both natural and human pollution sources. Nevertheless, air pollution is primarily associated with everyday human activities that include industrial processes and residential activities.

As individuals, we both directly and indirectly use energy, which has the by-product of creating significant air pollution. For instance, residential wood heating is the greatest single source of particulate matter in Canada, and pollutants from thousands of vehicles on the road are responsible for air concerns such as smog.

Although some hazardous contaminants in the air, such as lead, have declined in recent years, others remain and continue to become more problematic. The most commonly measured outdoor air pollutants in Canada include ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These substances are the principal ingredients or precursors of smog, and some also contribute to acid rain.

How does air quality affect me?

The human health issues related to poor air quality are far reaching, but principally affect the body's respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Individual reactions to air pollutants depend on the type of pollutant a person is exposed to, the degree of exposure, the individual's health status and genetics.

The health effects caused by air pollutants include difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. These effects can result in increased medication use, increased doctor or emergency room visits, more hospital admissions and even premature death. In analyzing air pollution and mortality data from eight Canadian cities, Health Canada estimates 5,900 deaths per year in those cities can be attributed to air pollution.

How does air quality affect the environment?

A wide variety of air pollutants and air issues affect Canada’s ecosystems: the quality of the soil and water are significantly affected by acid rain and its contributing pollutants; the health of wildlife is compromised by pollutants such as mercury that affect habitat and food quality; and vegetation health and productivity are harmed by a variety of pollutants, including ground-level ozone. Damage from air pollution is not always localized; the long range transport of pollutants can mean that soil, water, plants and animals can be affected by far away sources of pollutants.

How can I make a difference?

Conserving energy and making better consumer decisions can reduce the amount of emissions that you and your family emit at home, on the road, at work and at play.

There are many easy-to-do tips to help you take action against air pollution. Take advantage of the participation initiatives and resources that exist to help you reduce your emissions and energy use and save money at the same time, including:

You can also help by donating your time or resources to help a non-governmental clean air group, such as:

This article is based on material from Environment Canada's website:

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