Preventing the Health Effects of Air Pollution

Your health can deteriorate quickly when the air quality is poor or a smog warning (yellowish fog comprising gas and particles) is in effect. The effects of air pollution vary according to each person’s level of sensitivity. You can take certain precautions to improve your well-being and lower the harmful effects that air pollution can have on you and your loved ones. 

Precautions

Certain precautions can help you better plan outdoor activities and prevent the effects of air pollution.

Verify the air quality in your area

Before going out or engaging in outdoor activities, get into the habit of verifying the air quality index in your area. This way, you can determine when you should take precautions to safeguard your health.

To know if the current air quality in your area is good, acceptable or poor, consult the Air Quality Index This link opens a new window.page. This is an information tool from the ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MDDELCC). It is updated every hour and shows the current air quality in several Québec regions.

You can also check the air quality forecast for the coming days on Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Info-Smog This link opens a new window.. This website issues smog warnings for regions where poor air quality is forecasted.

The media often broadcast smog warnings.

As a precaution, keep your medication with you

If you have heart or respiratory problems, bring your medication with you when you go outdoors. Follow your doctor’s instructions properly to keep your symptoms under control.

Avoid areas where the air is polluted

When you are physically active, you breathe deeper and faster, putting yourself in greater contact with air pollutants. Therefore, you should limit physical activity and reduce its intensity when you are in a polluted area, such as:

  • Busy roads where there is regularly a lot of traffic
  • Industrialized areas
  • Residential neighbourhoods on winter nights. Many residents in these neighbourhoods operate wood stoves and fireplaces that emit pollutants into the air

Pay special attention to symptoms you may feel when outdoors. If you have difficulty breathing, stay indoors. If you have questions about your health, call Info-Santé 811.

Contribute to the reduction of outdoor air pollution

  • Use methods of transportation that help reduce the amount of pollutants in the air:
    • Public transport
    • Walk or bike (when air quality is good)
    • Carpool
  • Limit the use of fireplaces and wood stoves in the winter because such appliances contribute a great deal to smog during the cold season. Make sure that you maintain these appliances properly. For more details, visit the MDDELCC’s Wood Heating This link opens a new window.page 
  • If you wish to buy a wood stove, choose an appliance that meets environmental performance standards (CSA or EPA certification). These appliances emit less particles in the air

Maintain good indoor air quality 

Pay attention to the air quality inside your home because it could also be harmful to your health.

Certain outdoor pollutants, such as fine particles and ozone, can also get into your house. Other pollutants may already be present, including:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves
  • Mould and other contaminants associated with excessive humidity
  • Volatile organic compounds, mainly formaldehyde, from:
    • Household products, such as paints and varnishes
    • Construction material, such as chipboard or plywood panels
  • Carbon monoxide emitted by some appliances and vehicles during the combustion of propane, wood, fuel, etc.
  • Radon, an odourless, colourless radioactive gas that can seep into buildings
  • Asbestos from brittle or damaged material that has been sawn, sanded, etc. 

To ensure that the air quality in your home is good, reduce or eliminate major sources of pollutants:

  • Do not smoke indoors
  • Fix water infiltration problems to prevent mould growth
  • Opt for healthy and environmentally friendly household products and materials
  • Limit the use of wood-burning appliances
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector, and avoid using appliances that operate on fuel (gasoline, propane, etc.) indoors
  • Measure the concentration of radon in your home with a dosimeter. You can do it yourself or hire an expert
  • Learn about the possible sources of asbestos in your home and take the appropriate precautions, especially if you are doing renovations

Opening your windows regularly is an inexpensive and effective measure. However, you should keep your windows shut when outdoor air quality is poor and during periods of extreme cold. 

Be sure to also:

  • Always turn on the range hood when cooking. The hood should be vented outside.
  • Turn on the bathroom fan each time someone takes a shower or a bath

If you have a central ventilation system (also known as an air exchanger), operate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

You should install these appliances in your home if you do not yet have them. Be sure to maintain them regularly in order to uphold their efficiency.

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