Air Quality and One Simple Act
Clean air is important for all living things on Earth. Hold your breath and see how long you can hold it. It is the first of our basic needs for survival, next to water, food and shelter.
People can improve air quality by reducing the amount of pollutants that are emitted into the air. How? By taking and committing to simple actions, which can include using alternative energy sources such as solar, wind or water, or use energy more efficiently overall.
Two simple actions that many people can choose to do is to drive less and try to be idle-free whenever possible. We can also use transportation smarter by carpooling, using public transit, walking or riding bicycles.
Motor vehicles are an integral part of Canadian lifestyles. They help us get to work, or in some cases do our work, as well as travel, visit friends or family, and get our groceries. However, vehicle emissions contribute to a variety of environmental issues such as damage to plants, soil and water, and sometimes interference with animal reproduction. Vehicle emissions can also pose a problem to human health, by contributing to respiratory or cardiovascular issues and some cancers.
(Are you still holding your breath?)
Pollutants from vehicle emissions can sometimes build up and accumulate in areas such as stop lights, drive-thrus, or at pick-up and drop-off areas. Overall, transportation accounts for approximately 26 per cent of nitrogen oxides. As well, excessively idling our vehicles can also release pollutants into the air, including nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, benzene, particulate matter and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, while not an air pollutant per se, can contribute to climate change and may be linked to various environmental issues such as drought, poor soil quality and potential loss of biodiversity.
School Resources and Community-based Monitoring
- Alberta’s Idle-free School Resource Manual - (162 pages, 1.8 MB)
An elementary school resource guide to take action on improving air quality in Alberta.
- School Newsletter #1, Fall - (2 pages, <1 MB)
- School Newsletter #2, Winter - (2 pages, <1 MB)
- School Newsletter #3, Spring (include results) - (2 pages, <1 MB)
- Idle-free School Bus Driver Information Sheet - (2 pages, <1 MB)
- Be Idle-free logo
- Spare Our Air Idle-free Zone Sign
A website that can help your students participate in their own learning while gaining a more holistic and hopeful understanding of today's complex energy and environmental issues. Contains lots of resources and information.
The Air Quality Health Index, AQHI is a guide to the relative risk presented by a mixture of common air pollutants which are known to harm human health. Three specific pollutants have been chosen as indicators of the overall mixture:
- Ground-level Ozone (O3), is formed by photo-chemical reactions in the atmosphere. It can be a major component of smog during the summer, especially during hot sunny weather, but is generally low in the wintertime. Air pollutants that contribute to ozone formation are emitted by vehicles, industrial facilities and natural sources such as vegetation. Under some weather conditions, ozone can also be transported down to the ground from the ozone-rich upper atmosphere.
- Particulate Matter (PM2.5), is a mixture of tiny airborne particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. These particles can either be emitted directly by vehicles, industrial facilities or natural sources like forest fires, or formed indirectly as a result of chemical reactions among other pollutants. Particulate matter can reflect both local air pollution sources or widespread air pollution episodes.
- Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), is released by motor vehicle emissions and power plants that rely on fossil fuels. It contributes to the formation of the other two pollutants. Nitrogen dioxide is often elevated in the vicinity of high traffic roadways and other local sources.
All three can have effects on human health even as a result of short-term exposure. All of these pollutants can pose health risks at low levels of exposure, especially among those with pre-existing health problems.
See the following video clip for better understanding:
- Air Quality in Alberta – You Tube Video - (2:48 mins)
The Air Quality Health Index or AQHI, is a tool designed to help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health. It will provide you with the information you need to protect your health by: limiting short-term exposure to air pollution during air quality events and adjusting your activity levels during air pollution events. It is also intended to provide advice on actions you can take to improve the quality of the air you breathe, especially in urban areas.
The AQHI is measured in more than 20 communities in Alberta. To find the AQHI in your community, see:
- Air Quality Health Index for Kids
Meet Indi the Caterpillar! Indi is here to tell you about the Air Quality Health Index!
Air Quality Health Index Learning Stations
These Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) learning stations address literacy, reflection and problem-solving with awareness of the Government of Canada's AQHI.
Educators can choose from six 30-minute learning centres for their grade 5 or 6 students, building skills in literacy, communication, reflection and problem-solving. Developed directly from provincial and territorial curriculum documents, topics include ways to prepare for and predict various weather and/or air quality conditions, how media, peers and family affect decisions, outdoor safety, and environmental health issues.
Hard copies of this document and other related resources can be ordered from:
Visit the Arbor Day Foundation website for more useful information on climate change:
Updated: Aug 5, 2015