The quality of the air we breathe is intimately tied to both natural and industrial processes, and its impact on public health is increasingly becoming a point of concern. With growing information about the health impacts of exposure to various air pollutants, there is an urgent need to address air quality issues. In Canada, managing air quality is a shared responsibility across all levels of government. This includes meeting established standards for key pollutants, as well as local and regional monitoring and reporting of substance levels.
A key health concern in air quality management is the impact of particulate matter, particularly fine particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 can have significant health impacts, including respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Wildfires, which have become more frequent and severe in recent years, are a major source of PM2.5 due to the smoke they generate. Similarly, exhaust from vehicle traffic, especially diesel trucks, contributes significantly to PM2.5 levels. These particles pose a health risk, especially in urban areas with high traffic volumes.
Increased compliance with air quality standards is essential to mitigate these health risks. This includes rigorous monitoring of air pollutant levels, stringent enforcement of emission standards, and public education on the health risks associated with poor air quality. Efforts to improve air quality not only involve reducing emissions from key sources like vehicles and industrial activities but also enhancing public awareness and preparedness, especially in response to episodic events like wildfire smoke.
Industrial activities contribute other pollutants to the air, such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) from facilities like aluminum smelters. These pollutants have their own set of health risks, necessitating comprehensive health risk assessments and effective communication to the public about these risks and the measures in place to manage them.
RSI experience in Air quality
In our work at RSI, we have taken a leading role in several studies pertinent to these issues. We led a study on the utility of the Air Quality Health Index in Canada, examining how municipalities inform the public about hazardous smoke levels from wildfires. Our study also proposed measures to protect health from exposure to high levels of smoke, including smoke from domestic wood burning for winter heating.
Furthermore, we conducted an assessment of diesel particulate concentrations near a proposed rail-truck hub, evaluating the health risks to local residents from these emissions. Our work extended to the impacts of sulphur dioxide in regions affected by industrial activities, such as those near an aluminum smelter. Here, we not only conducted the health risk assessment but also prepared communication materials on SO2 levels, monitoring and management practices, and associated health risks.
Through these projects, we at RSI are committed to improving air quality and public health by contributing to the understanding and management of air pollutants and their impacts.