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Majority of Canadians unfamiliar with the Air Quality Index: Lung Association survey

June 4, 2008

(Ottawa) – Clean air is important to everyone's good health, yet only one-third of Canadians are familiar with the Air Quality Index, according to survey results released today by The Lung Association.

To mark Clean Air Day, The Lung Association encourages Canadians to become more aware about how air quality can affect their health and to learn what they can do to reduce air pollution. "Our lung health— and our health in general— depends on clean air. Indoor and outdoor air pollution can cause health problems, especially for those who have lung diseases," says Dr. Menn Biagtan of the British Columbia Lung Association.

"It's important that all Canadians become familiar with the Air Quality Index. It's like a canary in the coal mine, but even better. The index gives you a heads-up when air quality is poor, so that you can take preventative action," she adds.

The Air Quality Index measures the level of six major air pollutants in a certain area and gives a reading based on the pollutant that's at the worst level that day. The index is provided by Environment Canada and is updated several times a week.

Of those surveyed who are familiar with the Air Quality Index, more than half (51%) don't know what specific steps they can do to protect their health on days when air quality is poor.

"That's a shame because there are preventative steps that everyone can take to protect their lung health," says Dr. Biagtan.

A new system to measure air quality and its effects on lung health is also in the process of being introduced nationwide. An Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) has been developed by a multi-partner federal/provincial/NGO committee over the last seven years. It is the first air quality index in the world to be based on scientific health studies. It is also an improvement on existing indices, which have been based on the level of just one pollutant, because it takes into account people's exposure to three common pollutants.

"This new Air Quality Health Index is a great improvement over existing air quality indices," said Kenneth Maybee, Chair of Environmental Issues for The Lung Association, "The Lung Association has partnered with Health Canada and Environment Canada, throughout the development process. It provides Canadians another way that they can take action to protect their own health and the health of others in their care."

The Lung Association has a list of strategies that all Canadians can use to protect their lung health on days when air quality is poor.

Air pollution affects everyone's health. Certain people are at higher risk, particularly children, seniors and those with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

People who do vigorous activities outdoors, such as athletes, farmers and construction workers, are also at a higher risk. Even healthy individuals may have more difficulty breathing on days when the air is highly polluted.

"Sometimes people think they're not affected by air pollution because they can't see it in the air," says Dr. Biagtan. "But ground-level ozone, one of the main components of smog, is colourless. You may not be able to see it, but it can harm you."

Dr. Biagtan adds that it's not just urban dwellers who are affected by air pollution. People living in rural areas and in cottage country can be affected by pollutants released hundreds of kilometers away that get blown by the wind.

"There are two main ways that people can take action to reduce their exposure to air pollution," said Kenneth Maybee. "We can reduce the emissions from cars, power plants and industries, and we can follow the advice offered by the AQHI on days when the air quality is poor. That advice essentially is to reduce your outdoor activities when the air is poor and resume those activities on the many days when the air is cleaner."

The survey data was collected by Environics Research, on behalf of The Lung Association and was conducted between March 13 and April 7, 2008. It is based on telephone interviews with a representative sample of 2,026 Canadians (18 years and over). The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.2 percent, in 19 out of 20 samples.

Established in 1900, The Lung Association is one of Canada's oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs and advocacy on lung health issues.


For more information contact:
Cameron Bishop
Director of Government Affairs and Media Relations
The Canadian Lung Association
Phone: 613-569-6411, ext. 223

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