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Wildfires and Air Quality: How to Check the Readings in Your Area

As we brace for another wildfire season, Environment and Climate Change Canada urges vigilance regarding air pollution levels and emphasizes checking the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), particularly during smoky days.

To access air quality readings in your area, visit the Air Quality Health Index website at https://weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/index_e.html. There, you can view ratings for communities across your province or territory. The index categorizes risk levels as follows: 1-3 (low risk), 4-6 (moderate risk), 7-10 (high risk), and above 10 (very high risk). Additionally, Environment Canada recommends downloading the WeatherCAN app and configuring personal notifications for AQHI updates in your region.

Risk assessment considers various factors, including consultation with Health Canada. Individuals at heightened risk of health issues due to poor air quality include those with respiratory and heart conditions, infants, young children, pregnant individuals, and the elderly. Even at “moderate risk” levels, these vulnerable groups may experience symptoms from air pollution.

This year brings changes to air quality advisories. When the AQHI exceeds 10 due to wildfire smoke, indicating a “very high” health risk, a new advisory type will be issued, emphasizing potentially worsening health effects and advising the consideration of canceling outdoor events. Additionally, users of Environment Canada’s weather website can now easily access all active air quality-related alerts under a separate tab, with affected areas highlighted in red on the map when the AQHI reaches 10+.

Furthermore, most provinces are transitioning to an enhanced version of the AQHI, which provides hourly measurements of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). This enhanced index calculates the rolling average of three common air pollutants—ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and PM 2.5—and the hourly PM 2.5 levels. The AQHI score displayed to the public is based on the higher of these two measures.

These measures aim to provide the public with timely and accurate information to safeguard health and well-being during wildfire season and periods of poor air quality.

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