Toronto and GTA health units promote Air Quality Health Index

Toronto Public Health, together with the Durham, Peel, Halton and York regional health units, is introducing an electronic toolkit to assist stakeholders and the media in promoting and reporting the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), a national tool used to measure air quality in relation to health.

This is the third year that the AQHI has been used in a number of municipalities throughout the country, including Toronto. The AQHI uses a scale from 1 to 10 to measure the risk to health from air quality; the higher the reading, the greater the health risk and need to take precautions.

Thousands of hospitalizations and premature deaths are associated with poor air quality. Air pollution worsens heart problems and aggravates lung conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis. In healthy people, air pollution reduces lung function and irritates the eyes, nose and throat.

“The AQHI is particularly useful as a reporting tool because it helps people plan ahead by telling them the best time of the day to be physically active and when to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activity,” said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. “We are pleased to introduce this toolkit to media and to our community partners to enable this important health information to reach those people who need it most.”

The AQHI provides health messages for both the general population and to those most at risk of health complications from air pollution, including children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing heart and breathing problems.

The new toolkit includes a short film outlining what the index means, how air pollution can affect our health, and why we should check the AQHI before spending time outdoors. The film features local media celebrities including The Weather Network’s Chris St. Clair, Citytv’s Frank Ferragine and Dr. Karl Kabasele from CP24, as well as Olympian and clean air champion Isabelle Turcotte-Baird. The toolkit also includes ready-to-use radio and web advertisements, newsletter articles, a PowerPoint presentation and a colourful print resources.

The toolkit is available free to help various stakeholders, including community agencies, sports groups and healthcare professionals learn how to use the AQHI in their program planning and to educate their clientele.

Many organizations, including a number of media outlets, now recognize the value of the AQHI. “At The Weather Network we know how important it is to have convenient access to health-related information including the Air Quality Health Index. That’s why we offer this report on TV, online and select mobile devices,” said John Mills, Vice-President of Content at The Weather Network. “We all lead busy, active lives, so no matter where you are, at home, work, or on the go, the Air Quality Heath Index is easily available to help plan your outdoor activities.”

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