October 30, 2006

BC becomes first testing ground for new Air Quality Health Index

British Columbia has become the first Canadian province to pilot-test a new Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), designed to provide air quality forecasts in a manner similar to the now-familiar UV Index. The AQHI project encompasses the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and eight communities across the province, including: Kamloops, Vernon, Osoyoos, Nanaimo, Victoria, Quesnel, Prince George and Kelowna. It is being carried out through a partnership involving Environment Canada, Health Canada and participating municipal governments.

The first public testing of the AQHI began in the fall of 2005 in four communities in the Thompson-Okanagan region. This pilot study is a successful expansion of last year's test.

"The new index will be particularly useful to members of the population who are at higher risk due to lung or heart conditions, such as senior citizens and those with asthma," said BC Environment Minister Barry Penner. Individuals who are healthy, fit and active can also use the index to decide when and how much to exercise or work outdoors.

The AQHI will provide BC residents information about:

*the level of risk, illustrated with a number and colour scale of zero to 10 or higher (the higher the reading, the greater the risk and need to take precautions);

*the level of health risk, designated as "low," "moderate," "high" or "very high;"

*a forecast of the air quality-related health risk;

*actions people can take to minimize their health risks; and

*information measures to reduce air pollution.

"As part of the Sustainable Region Initiative, the GVRD's most recent Air Quality Management Plan puts particular emphasis on addressing the public health impacts of air quality," said Joe Trasolini, head of the GVRD's environment committee. "The AQHI will be a useful tool in helping residents recognize the linkages between air quality and their health, and assist them in taking appropriate actions to reduce their exposure, when required," he added.

Health Canada scientists estimate that in eight Canadian cities, a total of 5,900 deaths, or 8% of all deaths in these cities, could be linked to air pollution every year. Research also shows that poor air quality sends thousands more Canadians to hospital each year.

More information on the AQHI pilot study is available on-line at www.airplaytoday.org.

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