86% of Canadians live in areas where air pollution exceeds WHO guidelines: researchers

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Most Canadians live in parts of the country where air pollution exceeds new guidelines set by the World Health Organization, and this could harm their health, researchers say.

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According to the researchers at CANUE – the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Association About 86 percent of Canadians live in areas where the level of particulate matter in the air exceeds WHO guidelines issued in late September.

About 56 percent of people live in areas where nitrogen dioxide levels exceed the new guidelines, said Jeff Brooke, an assistant professor of public health and chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto who works with CANUE.


New WHO guidelines recommend an annual average concentration of PM2.5 in air of five micrograms per cubic meter. PM2.5 means the particles present in the air are so small that they can enter the lungs when you breathe in and enter the bloodstream.

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While much of Canada was well under the old WHO guideline on fine particulate matter, much of urban Canada exceeds this new benchmark, as is the case with regular exposure to wildfire smoke in parts of western Canada. Yes, Canyu’s research shows.

“We should care because we can do something about it,” said Brooke, who is also a former air quality scientist for Environment Canada. “It’s contributing to the cost of health care. It’s affecting people’s quality of life.”

MAP: Areas exceeding WHO air quality guidelines on fine particulate matter

health canada estimate That air pollution contributes to 15,300 deaths per year in Canada, with many more people suffering from asthma and acute respiratory symptoms as a result of pollution. This is slightly more than the number of people in Canada who die annually in accidents such as car accidents, according to statistics canada.

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Other studies come to similar conclusions as CANUE’s research. a recent report of BC Lung Association found that many BC municipalities, including Victoria, much of the Lower Mainland, and especially communities in the interior such as Grand Forks, Castlegar and Nelson, exceeded these levels.

In Ontario, according to Government Report of 2018 On annual trends in air quality – the most recent year available – air pollution across Toronto also exceeded these recommended levels, with Downtown Toronto more than doubling the new WHO guideline record.

“Our most polluted part of Canada will be Windsor, Sarnia towards Montreal, Quebec City (corridor),” Brooke said. “But increasingly, our most serious air pollution problems are in Canada where there are wildfires.”

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air pollution and health

The new WHO guidelines on PM2.5 and NO2 are significantly lower than the old ones. They are by no means enforceable – but only a guide to helping countries move toward cleaner air, said Michael Breuer, a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC who worked on the guidelines. .

“The idea behind these guidelines is that they are completely health-based,” he said. “It’s a five-year process and a really very thorough and detailed evaluation of the available evidence of the health effects of air pollution.”

While Canada has much cleaner air than many other parts of the world, such as India with annual average PM2.5 levels of 83 micrograms per cubic metre, this does not mean that Canadians do not experience health effects as a result of air pollution. do, Brewer said.

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“Especially for particulate matter, PM2.5, we see more people dying. So it really is that simple. This is the ultimate health effect,” Brauer said.

While air pollution may not be written on death certificates, Brauer said, it is linked to lung disease, heart disease, asthma and heart attacks, and emerging evidence also suggests a link to type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions. suggest, according to who.

Dr. Erica Penz, a respiratory scientist and associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said outdoor air pollution has long been associated with decreased lung function in healthy people. But what really worries him as a respirologist is the impact on people with existing lung conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“We have actually seen even higher mortality rates among our patients with lung disease when exposed to high levels of air pollution,” she said.

During wildfire season in Saskatchewan, she said, “Many of my patients call my office because they’re having trouble breathing. Some of them unfortunately show up to the emergency department because they’re on their symptoms.” unable to control.

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“And many of my patients, fortunately, just know they’re not leaving the house for periods of poor air quality. And so they keep their windows closed and don’t go outside for their own safety.”

“I think many people can appreciate that if you are in very good health, you are exposed to air pollution, you may have a cough or a little difficulty breathing for a day or two, for example, In the event of wildfire smoke,” Breuer said. “But over the course of a lifetime, these repeated insults actually have quite a serious effect in combination with other things.”

Canada’s wildfire season is likely to worsen, B.C. Centers for Disease Control researcher Sarah Henderson told Granthshala News this summer. “All the research shows that we will see increasingly severe and longer wildfire seasons, and that means increasingly longer smoke exposures,” she said.

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