Skip to main content

Outdoor environments

Air Quality Health Index

What are you breathing today?

Did you know?

People with breathing problems or heart disease are more likely to experience short-term health effects from air pollution than people without these conditions.
Exposure to air pollution can trigger or aggravate existing health conditions, especially in people with breathing and heart problems.

What is the Air Quality Health Index?

  • the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a scale designed to help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health
  • it looks at the mixture of air pollutants and grades them on a weighted basis to come out with a scale from 1 to 10+ to show the relative health risk associated with the air pollution level in a community
  • the higher the value of the Air Quality Health Index, the more likely people will experience symptoms associated with poor air quality
health risk scale; low risk 1 to 3, moderate risk 4 to 6, high risk 7 to 10, very high risk above 10

How can you find out the AQHI values?

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change provides the current and forecasted AQHI values

If you are sensitive to changes in air quality, the AQHI can help you by:

Providing forecasts so you can plan when to schedule outdoor activities,
Providing health tips to protect you from air pollution;

To learn more about the Air Quality Health Index, visit If you have any questions, you may contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744, TTY: 613-580-9656.

Sun safety

Protect yourself against ultraviolet (UV) radiation

Know your personal risk factors for sunburn and skin cancer

Everyone is at risk, some people more than others. The risk is higher for people who:

  • are exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun or from artificial UV light such as tanning beds or sun lamps
  • have fair or freckled skin, blue eyes, and light-coloured or reddish hair
  • burn rather than tan
  • have lots of moles
  • work, play or exercise in the sun for long periods of time
  • had several blistering sunburns as a child
  • have a personal or family history of skin cancer
  • have certain medical conditions
  • take medications that increase sensitivity to the sun’s rays

Know your daily UV Index

  • consult local radio and TV stations
  • check on-line for the UV Index forecast in your area
  • when UV Index is 3 or higher, protect yourself accordingly

Cover up

  • wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face, ears and neck
  • wear sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection and ensure they wrap around your face.
    Long-term exposure to ultraviolet rays can result in eye damage such as cataracts and skin cancer around the eyes
  • wear tightly woven, loose fitting, full-length shirts and pants

Seek shade

  • limit your time in the sun between 11 am and 4 pm
  • do outdoor activities under a tree, umbrella, or in the shade of a building
  • create shade by planting trees or by using partial roofs, awnings, gazebo tents, etc.

Use sunscreen

  • choose a sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
  • choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays
  • apply sunscreen generously 20 minutes before going out in the sun
  • re-apply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming, drying off or sweating
  • if you must be in the sun for long periods of time (more than two hours), reapply sunscreen
  • read the label and follow the instructions
  • check for the expiry date
  • when applying sunscreen with other products (e.g., insect repellent, make-up), always apply the sunscreen first
  • sunscreen can’t block all the sun’s rays. Use it along with shade, clothing and hats, not instead of them

Babies and Children

Overexposure to UV radiation in childhood increases risk of skin cancer.
  • keep babies under one year out of direct sunlight at all times
  • place a canopy or umbrella over your baby’s stroller to give shade
  • have children wear protective clothing, hat and sunglasses
  • do not apply sunscreen to a baby less than 6 months old

Artificial tanning equipment

Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. The strength of the ultraviolet rays may actually be higher in tanning beds than in sunlight. 

New provincial legislation bans the use of tanning beds by youth 

The new Ontario Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds) bans the use of tanning beds by youth under 18 years of age. This new legislation protects youth from the proven dangers associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. As of May 1st, 2014, all tanning bed operators had to comply with this new legislation and are subject to an inspection in locations where ultraviolet tanning treatments are offered, including but not limited to, tanning salons, spas and fitness centers.

Under the legislation:

  • Tanning bed operators are required to request identification from anyone who appears to be under 25 years of age;
  • Tanning bed operators are required to post signs stating the ban on persons under the age of 18 and the health risks of tanning bed use;
  • Marketing and advertising targeted at anyone under the age of 18 is restricted;
  • Customers are required to wear protective eyewear when using tanning beds;
  • Tanning bed operators are required to provide written notice of their location and business contact information to their local public health unit.

The enforcement of the new regulations will be primarily complaint-based and will include fines for tanning bed operators who fail to comply. Public Health Inspectors are  authorized to inspect and enforce these new regulations.

All tanning bed operators are required by law to register their business with OPH. If you operate a tanning bed, you must contact OPH to register your business by contacting the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-69656) or by email at

For more information, visit the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.


Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Health Canada

For more information please contact Ottawa Public Health Information at 613-580-6744.