Poor air quality affects your health and the environment. Learn more about indoor and outdoor air quality.
The air we breathe contains a variety of chemicals, gases and particles, many of them are pollutants.
Outdoor air quality
Contaminants in outdoor air can come from natural and human sources.
Natural sources of outdoor air contamination:
- smoke from forest fires
- wind-blown dust
- particles released from animals and plants, such as pollen
Human sources of pollutants:
- exhaust from vehicles
- industrial processes (like sulfur dioxide from mining operations)
- burning fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and electricity
- Some pollutants are generated locally, and some travel thousands of kilometres.
- Smog is a mixture of air pollutants that contain gases and tiny particles.
- The build-up of some gas pollutants in the Earth’s atmosphere over the last 100 years has increased global temperatures. This warming effect is called climate change.
Indoor air quality
Contaminants can also build up within indoor environments, and this can have a negative effect on your health. These contaminants can come from many sources:
- Excessive moisture inside a building can result in dampness and is directly related to the growth of mould.
- Natural sources in the environment such as radon can enter into a building.
Other contaminants that can create a hazard to your health:
- smoke from burning wood
- asbestos from old building supplies
- mercury from household products
- second-hand smoke
Who is most at risk from poor air quality?
- people with existing respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses
- people with asthma
- young children
- older people
- people who do strenuous outdoor work or exercise
Symptoms of being exposed to poor air quality
When air quality is poor, even people who are otherwise healthy can experience symptoms like coughing, irritated eyes, and difficulty breathing. Anyone with an existing respiratory or cardiovascular condition can experience more severe symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain or fluttering in the chest, and feeling light-headed.
Protecting your health
- Be aware of risk factors and illnesses related to poor air quality.
- Be aware of the risks of strenuous work and exercise when air quality is poor, or if you are close to sources of air pollution, like busy roads.
- Check the air quality index in your area for an hourly report on local air quality and to learn about the different types of pollutants and their effects on your health.
You can help reduce air pollution
- Walk, ride a bike, and take public transit.
- Reduce your fuel use – choose a fuel-efficient vehicle, turn off your engine when you are parked (don’t idle).
- Turn down the heat and air conditioning in your home and improve the insulation around windows and doors.
- Understand the health and environmental effects of air pollution and advocate for cleaner air.
This item was last modified on July 17, 2015