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Air Quality Basics


​Most of t​​​he time Metro Vancouver residents enjoy good, and steadily improving, air quality. Even so, there are still significant sources of air pollution in our region, and many factors that can influence how much can be in the air around you.  

In addition to regional sources of air pollution, there could be other sources in your neighbourhood that can affect your loca​l air quality. For example, using a wood-burning st​ove can increase fine particulate matter in or around your home, and living near a busy street could increase exposure to nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter.

The Air Aware project can help you learn how to choose and use a small air sensor. Learning about the basics of different types of air pollution will help you better understand what your sensor is measuring and h​​ow to limit your exposure to poor air quality.

Air poll​u​​tion​​

Air pollution can co​me in many different forms, depending on where you live. Different communities can have dif​​​ferent sources of air pollution, but a few common air pollutants are found throughout the Metro Vancouver region:

  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) Regional sources: wood-burning appliances, heavy-duty equipment, industry, traffic.
  • Ground-level ozone (O3) is not emitted directly. It is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react with each other on hot, sunny days.
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx) Regional sources: vehicles and equipment that burn fossil fuels. Nitrogen oxides also react with other pollutants to form ground-level ozone or fine particulate matter, both of which are also harmful air pollutants.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC). Regional sources: paints and chemicals, trees and vegetation, traffic.
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2) Regional sources: marine vessels that burn sulphur-containing fuels and a petroleum refinery.

Che​ck out Metro Vancouver’s latest emission inventory to learn more about air contaminant sources and types in the region.

Air pollution can come and go with the seasons and weather: hot days during the summer can lead to more grou​​nd-level ozone, and cool, wet days can reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air. Summer also comes with the risk of wildfires and smoke that can increase both fine particulate matter and ozone. 

Caring for the Air reports ​​detail the variety of air pollution sources in our region, and what Metro Vancouver is doing to protect and improve our air quality.

​Health impacts ​​of air​ pollution

Outdoor air pollutants commonly associated with negative health effects include particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Health Canada estimates that 14,600 premature deaths each year in C​anada can be linked to fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. An individual’s response to air pollution will depend on the type and amount of air pollution they are exposed to, how long they are exposed, and their pre-existing health conditions and age.

Well-studied health impacts from exposure to air pollution include:

  • headache and eye, nose,​ and throat irritation
  • asthma onset and exacerbation
  • respiratory infections
  • lung cancer
  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • death

Recent studies have a​lso found that exposure to air pollution may be linked to:

  • reduced lung function
  • pre-term birth
  • low-birth weight
  • childhood obesity
  • cognitive development
  • mental health outcomes
  • dementia
  • diabetes

The populations most at risk of negative health impacts from air pollution include children, older adults, pregnant women and those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions. Some people are more exposed to air pollution than others, including people who live, work or play close to busy roads. Research suggests that there is no safe leve​l of exposure to some air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter, and for this reason we should reduce exposure as much as we can. 

 Related links



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