June 4, 2009

Clean Air Day Highlights Importance of Air Quality for Good Health

New Air Quality Health Index Helps Identify Health Risks

Winnipeggers, particularly those with respiratory and cardiac problems will now be better able to manage their health, thanks to the introduction of the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in Winnipeg. The index, developed by the Government of Canada and adopted by the Manitoba government, helps people understand how poor air quality can affect their health and provides steps they can take to manage it. Similar to the UV index, the AQHI provides daily updates online. It was launched yesterday, Canada's official Clean Air Day.

The AQHI uses a colour-coded scale, from 1 to 10+. The higher the number, the greater the health risk associated with air quality. The numbers are also grouped into risk categories - low, moderate, high and very high - that help the user to quickly identify their level of risk.

While Winnipeg's air quality is among the best in Canada, it continues to affect the health of Winnipeggers. According to a Canadian Medical Association study in 2008, 89 deaths, 373 hospital admissions and 3,613 emergency department visits in Manitoba were attributed to air quality issues.

Dr. Michael Routledge, Medical Officer of Health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said, "It's important to remember that air quality is still a significant health issue for many Winnipeg residents, especially persons who are suffering from heart and lung disease."

Routledge welcomed the new Air Quality Health Index. "This new tool helps to protect the public from the health effects of poor air quality," said Routledge. "Health problems related to air quality are predicted to grow, unless we take steps to lessen air pollution."

Routledge added that most air pollution in Winnipeg is caused by motor vehicles. He urged Winnipeggers to use alternate forms of transportation, like walking, biking and public transit, and other clean travel practices such as idling reduction. "We all contribute to air pollution and we can all help to improve the quality of the air we breathe so we can enjoy better health."

The Government of Canada officially launched Clean Air Day (CAD) on June 2, 1999, and it is held each year during Environment Week. The goal of CAD is to increase public awareness and action on two key environmental priorities, clean air and climate change.

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