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B.C. Launches World’s First Air Quality Health Index


Sept. 22, 2006 - VANCOUVER – A pilot study for a new Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) that provides forecasts on air quality similar to the UV Index has been launched in eight communities throughout British Columbia, Environment Minister Barry Penner announced today.

“British Columbia’s air quality is amongst the best in North America and we have seen some further improvements in recent years, which is important since air pollution is directly linked to increased health risks,” said Penner. “The new index will be particularly useful to members of the population who are at higher risk due to lung or heart conditions, such as senior citizens and those with asthma.”

The AQHI pilot is a partnership with Environment Canada, Health Canada and participating municipal governments. British Columbia is the first province in Canada to pilot the index. Public testing began in the fall of 2005 in four communities in the Thompson-Okanagan region. This pilot study is a successful expansion of last year’s test and is accessible at

“The quality of our environment, especially of the air we breathe, is a key priority of Canada’s New Government. Over the coming months, my colleagues and I will start telling Canadians about a practical, results-oriented approach to protect their health,” said federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. “It will deliver cleaner air, diminish traffic gridlock and further protect Canadian families from harmful substances.”

The AQHI will provide British Columbians information about:

· The level of risk with a number and colour scale of zero to 10 or higher;

· The level of health risk as “low,” “moderate,” “high” or “very high;”

· Actions they can take to minimize their health risks;

· A forecast of the health risk from air quality; and

· Information on how we can reduce air pollution.

“This new Air Quality-Health Index will be the world’s first and will empower Canadians to protect their health from the negative effects of air pollution,” added federal Health Minister Tony Clement. “Tangible, measurable outcomes are what Canadians expect and what Canada’s new Government will deliver.”

Healthy, fit and active Canadians can also use the index to decide when and how much to exercise or work outdoors. The higher the reading, the greater the risk and need to take precautions. The AQHI pilot study encompasses the Greater Vancouver Regional District and eight communities across the province including:

· Kamloops

· Vernon

· Osoyoos

· Nanaimo

· Victoria

· Quesnel

· Prince George

· Kelowna

“As part of the Sustainable Region Initiative, the GVRD’s most recent Air Quality Management Plan puts particular emphasis on addressing the public health impacts of air quality,” said GVRD Environment Committee chair Joe Trasolini. “The AQHI will be a useful tool in helping residents recognize the linkages between air quality and their health, and assist them in taking appropriate actions to reduce their exposure, when required.”

In Canada, Health Canada scientists estimated that in eight Canadian cities, a total of 5,900 deaths, or eight per cent of all deaths in these cities, could be linked to air pollution every year. Research also shows that poor air quality sends thousands more Canadians to hospital each year. The World Health Organization recently estimated that 800,000 deaths per year worldwide – or 1.4 per cent of all deaths – could be attributed to urban outdoor-air pollution.


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