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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 www.airhealth.ca. If you have any questions, you may contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744, TTY: 613-580-9656.

Sun safety

Ultraviolet rays (UVR) are a public health concern because:

  • Canadians have been increasing their time in the sun;
  • UVR can harm the skin and eyes;
  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, and rates of melanoma are increasing.

Enjoy the sun safely: Protect your skin, protect your eyes

When heading outdoors:

Protect your skin:

  • Check the daily forecast for the UV Index UV Index forecast.  When the UV Index is 3 or higher, protect your skin accordingly. In general, the UV Index in Canada can be 3 or higher from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and September, even when it’s cloudy.
    • Seek shade or bring your own (e.g., an umbrella).
    • Wear clothing and your favorite wide-brimmed hat that cover as much skin as possible, as appropriate to the activity and weather.
    • Use sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum” and “water-resistant” with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, on skin not covered by clothing. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply when required.
  • Avoid getting a sunburn or deliberately try to get a suntan, and avoid using UV tanning equipment.

Protect your eyes:

  • Wear sunglasses or prescription eyeglasses with UV-protective lenses.
  • Wear your favorite wide-brimmed hat for added eye protection.

Additional recommendations:

Use sources of vitamin D that are safer than UVR exposure, e.g., choose your favorite dietary sources from vitamin D fortified foods, and vitamin D supplements. Intentional UVR exposure to meet vitamin D requirements is not recommended.

Tips to make this easy:

Shade

  • Good-quality shade includes dense vegetation and covered structures that offer shade from the side, and not just overhead, to protect against scattered UVR.
  • Cloth sources of shade, such as canopies and umbrellas, should have tightly woven fabric.
  • Additional personal protection (clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen) is recommended even when in the shade to protect against scattered UVR, especially on high UV Index days.

Clothing

  • Hats with a wide brim that shade the head, face, ears and back of the neck are best.
  • In general, clothing provides better protection than sunscreen.
  • Tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing is recommended.

Sunscreen

  • Use sunscreen that says on the label:
    • “Broad spectrum”
    • “SPF 30” or higher
    • “Water resistant”
  • Sunscreen should be used on exposed skin not covered by protective clothing for the best protection.
    Consider using sunscreen for the lips (e.g., sunscreen lip balm) as well.
  • Use a generous amount of sunscreen (e.g., the average adult requires approximately two to three tablespoons of lotion-formulated sunscreen to cover the whole body, and a teaspoon to cover the face and neck).
  • Reapply after swimming, strenuous exercise, or toweling off.
  • Sunscreen comes in a variety of formulations. Find one that suits you best and apply it properly with thorough coverage. Sunscreen formulations that you find easier to apply thoroughly will be more effective.

Eye protection

  • Because UVR is harmful to the eyes and is present in the sun’s rays all year round and throughout the day, eye protection may be required even when skin protection is not.
  • Eye protection is essential around highly reflective environments, such as snow, sand and water to prevent UV damage to the eyes.
  • The best UV protection for eyes is offered by close-fitting wraparound sunglasses.
  • Opt for sunglasses or prescription lenses offering complete protection against UVA and UVB, for example lenses labelled “UV400” or “100% UV protection.”
  • Wear your favourite wide-brimmed hat for added eye protection.

Babies and Children

Overexposure to UV radiation in childhood increases the risk of skin cancer:

  • It is best to keep babies under one year out of direct sunlight at all times.
  • Use a canopy or umbrella over your baby’s stroller to give shade.
  • Have children wear protective clothing, hat and sunglasses.Sunscreen should not be applied to a baby less than 6 months old.

Artificial Tanning Equipment

Provincial legislation bans the use of tanning beds by youth 

The Ontario Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds) bans the use of tanning beds by youth under 18 years of age. This legislation protects youth from the proven dangers associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. As of May 1st, 2014, all tanning bed operators have to comply with this 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.

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

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

Links

Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Health Canada

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