Spare the Air Actions

There are many different types of air pollutants from a wide range of sources. The pollutants that most affect health are the gases and particles that contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease. These pollutants are often lumped together under the term “smog”.

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a scale designed to help you understand what the quality of the air around you means to your health. It is a new tool developed by health and environmental professionals to communicate the health risk posed by air pollution.

It is designed to help you make decisions to protect your health and the environment by:

  • Limiting short-term exposure to air pollution
  • Adjusting your activity during episodes of increased air pollution and encouraging physical activity on days when the index is lower
  • Reducing your personal contribution to air pollution

The index provides specific advice for people who are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution as well as the general public.

If a high risk AQHI value is forecast to last for 1 to 2 hours, then a Special Air Quality Statement (SAQS) will be issued. The purpose of a SAQS is to be precautionary and to be vigilant of your health as it relates to the AQHI.

If the high risk AQHI is forecast to be persistent, a duration of at least 3 hours, then a Smog and Air Health Advisory (SAHA) will be issued.

Both SAQS and SAHA are issued jointly by Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

The Ontario government is committed to protecting and improving our province's air quality. Programs such as Drive Clean will significantly reduce smog levels over the next few years. But we can all help reduce smog and make the air we breathe safer by taking special actions, especially during a SAQA or SAHA.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself, your family and the environment:

  1. Reduce car use - all year round
    Walk, cycle or take public transit. Emissions from cars, trucks and buses contribute greatly to Ontario's smog problem. Leave your car at home, if possible, or limit car trips by doing all your errands at once. Hold a teleconference instead of travelling to meetings. Avoid being outside around high traffic areas during peak rush hour times to minimize your exposure to smog.
  2. Drive Clean
    If you must drive, try carpooling. And keep your car well tuned. A well maintained car runs better and pollutes less. Shut the engine off, even for short stops - one minute of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine. Drive at moderate speeds and check your tires regularly. Refuel your car after sundown when air pollution levels are lower and gasoline vapours won't add to the problem.
  3. Turn off the lights
    Generating electricity contributes to smog, so remember to turn off the lights whenever you don't need them.
  4. Set Your Air Conditioning Temperature a Few Degrees Higher
    Air conditioning uses up energy, some of which is supplied by oil and coal-fired generators which emit pollutants that contribute to smog. Increasing the temperature in your home or place of work by a few degrees is a small price to pay to reduce hydro usage and help improve air quality.
  5. Limit use of small engine tools
    You'd hardly think that mowing the lawn contributes to smog, but it does. Small gasoline engines in mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers emit high levels of pollutants that cause smog. On smog alert days put off mowing the lawn to another day. Use electric-powered or, even better, manual tools which don't produce any pollution.
  6. Use air-friendly products
    Avoid using aerosol sprays and cleaners, oil-based paints and other chemical products that contribute to poor air quality indoors and outdoors. Use less-toxic alternatives: a small cup filled with vinegar and left on a counter top works as well as an aerosol air freshener; a mixture of water and soap flakes works as well as any pest spray to reduce an ant colony. Use latex and water-based paints.
  7. Delay exercising
    Strenuous outdoor exercise, on smog alert days, can cause breathing difficulties and eye and throat irritations even in healthy people. On smog alert days, if strenuous outdoor activities or exercise are unavoidable, drink plenty of fluids, take breaks, and monitor your health and the health of your children.
  8. Stay indoors
    Sensitive people may experience eye, nose and throat irritations, chest discomfort, laboured breathing and possible lung damage. If possible, stay indoors in a cool, air-conditioned environment.
  9. Don't light up on smog alert days
    Whether it's lighting up your fire place or even a cigarette, the smoke will only add more pollutants to the air and further deteriorate air quality in and around your home. Take a break - don't smoke, and enjoy light meals that require little or no cooking.
  10. Educate your children
    When a smog alert has been called, encourage your children to reduce their exposure by avoiding strenuous outdoor activities. Exercise is important for your children, but try to minimize their exertion when smog levels are high. It may be advisable to reschedule outdoor sporting events. Talk to your kids about what they can do to help improve air quality.
  11. During the colder months
    Even in the middle of winter, the presence of fine particulate matter in the air can cause smog. To avoid winter smog, reduce car use, turn off your vehicle when parked and reduce electricity consumption. Further, limit the amount of wood you burn in your fireplace or wood stove. When burning wood, use only the dry, seasoned variety. If possible, use natural gas instead of wood.

For further information contact:

Telephone: (416) 325-4000 or toll free at 1-800-565-4923