Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

About the Air Quality Health Index

About the Air Quality Health Index

It is important to remember that similar to changes in weather that can occur during the day, AQHI levels may also change throughout the day. Changes in AQHI are often dependent on changes in wind, temperature, rain, and other environmental factors. As such, health risks may also vary throughout the day and this can be monitored using the Air Quality Health Index webpage. A Kamloops-specific page can be found here.

In order to best protect yourself from possible poor air quality, it is best to use the above resources to determine the current risk level, and to then follow the advice provided by the Government of Canada.

Environment Canada recommends that at Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) levels of 10+, members of the general population reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation. For those members of the community felt to be more “at risk” (such as people with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, young children, the elderly, and those individuals who participate in sporting events of strenuous outdoor work), when the strenuous outdoor activities should be avoided as much as possible. Children are particularly at risk in conditions like these, as children often breathe through their mouths. This allows polluted air to bypass natural filters in the nose and to go straight to their lungs.

While not as severe as Very High Health Risk (10+), when the AQHI is 7-10 members of the “at risk” groups described above should still reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors and generally take it easy. Similarly, members of the general population should consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities if coughing or throat irritation is experienced.

By contrast, when the AQHI levels are between 4-6 (Moderate Risk), there is no need for members of the general population to modify any usual outdoor activities unless symptoms such as coughing or throat irritation develop. At this level, Members of the “at risk” population may want to consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities, but this is only if you are experiencing symptoms such as those described above.

Intervention to protect the public during wildfire smoke events

Stay indoors: Staying indoors reduces exposure to smoky air when people move to a location with good indoor air quality. During wildfire smoke events clean indoor air is achieved by
  • Limiting infiltration from outdoors – closing doors and windows and putting air conditioning on re-circulate
  • Limiting sources of indoor air pollution – combustion activities (e.g. cooking with gas, smoking) painting, certain cleaning products etc.
  • Cleaning indoor air – central air conditioning or portable air cleaners.
Reducing outdoor physical activity
  • People participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors breathe more deeply and rapidly allowing more air pollution to enter their lungs.
  • Days when air pollution levels are significantly elevated, even people not in the above groups may notice symptoms.
  • Symptoms can be: irritated eyes, increased mucus production in the nose and throat, coughing, difficulty breathing.
Wear an N95 respirator
  • Proper use of an N95 half mask face respirator to reduce exposure to the smoke.
  • Respirators provide a ten-fold reduction in inhaled fine particulate matter, the component of wildfire smoke that is most associated with adverse health effects.
  • Respirators are widely available and relatively cheap
  • Proper fitting of the respirator is essential to ensure a good fit. The proper way of putting on a respirator is to hold the mask in place and take the top elastic and place it at the crown of your head. The lower elastic goes right over the head and down to the neck. Once the elastics are in place, the mask have a metal strip at the nose this is to be bent to fit closely with the nose and cheek areas.
Activate asthma/COPD action plans
  • People with asthma or COPD may notice an increase in cough, wheezing, shortness of breath or phlegm.
  • Ensure that plans for self-management of asthma/COPD are in place
  • Ensure adequate supplies are in place including medications are available
Use a home clean air shelter (home-CAS)
  • A home-CAS is an entire home or an area of the home with filtration that reduces indoor wildfire smoke concentrations. Use may be part time (several hours a day) or fulltime (24 hours a day)
  • This can be achieved by using the home air conditioning system with a HEPA filtration system. Portable units must be placed in an appropriate sized room with limited air filtration from the outdoors.
Cancelling/rescheduling outdoor events
  • Decision that group activities that occur outside will be not take place or will be rescheduled. Possible examples may include sports events (tournaments, practices), and mass gatherings (arts and cultural events etc.)
Providing community clean air shelters
  • Spend time in a community based facility such as a mall, school, pool, that has cleaner air than outdoors