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It’s a combination of nitrogen, oxygen, water, argon, carbon dioxide and other trace gases. We inhale this mixture approximately 26,000 times each day; a volume of about 14,000 litres. Clean air is something all living things need. It is vital to healthy lives and a healthy environment.

The Air We Breathe

Air quality is affected by pollutants. Air pollution is the term that describes any harmful gases or particles in the air. Although natural emissions from forest fires and air-borne dust from soil and volcanoes contribute to air pollution, human activities release far more pollutants into the environment. Canada’s largest sources of air pollution are power plants, industries and vehicle emissions.

When air quality is poor it can adversely affect the health of humans, wildlife and ecosystems alike. Since air knows no physical or political boundaries or borders, air pollution can affect urban and rural areas or neighbouring countries alike.

Human Health

Poor air quality principally affects human respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Although individual reactions may vary, air pollution can result in:

  • Irritated eyes, nose and throat,
  • Wheezing, coughing and breathing difficulties,
  • Worsening of existing lung and heart conditions,
  • Increased risk of heart attack, and
  • In some cases, premature death in vulnerable people or individuals with pre-existing cardio-respiratory problems.

Ecosystem Health

Air pollution can also have an impact on ecosystems. Vegetation can be affected when contaminants enter the plant through the pores in its leaves during respiration or are absorbed directly into leaf tissue. Pollutants from the air can also be deposited in the soil, absorbed by plant roots and transported to the leaves.

Certain substances can build up in plant tissues which in turn can affect the health of wildlife that eat the vegetation. Pollutants in the air can also be deposited in water bodies, reducing water quality and affecting health of organisms in that water body.

All organisms in an ecosystem interact with one another to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Where organisms have been adversely affected by air pollution, the biodiversity of the ecosystem may be altered.

Get Involved

Although governments monitor air quality and regulate industrial and other sources of pollution, individuals are also encouraged to take part in helping to reduce their own contributions to air pollution. Here are just a few things you can do to help keep the air we breathe cleaner:

  • Drive less – Try carpooling, walking or riding your bike, take public transit or telecommute.
  • Drive smart – Accelerate gradually, avoid speeding, keep your car properly tuned and maintained, drive a fuel-efficient, low emissions vehicle.
  • Shop right – purchase water-based or low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and related products
  • Live smart – Avoid using harsh cleaners, regularly inspect and clean your gas appliances and heater.
  • Save energy – Turn off lights when you leave a room, use energy efficient light bulbs, unplug unused appliances.
  • Reduce waste – Buy recycled products, choose re-usable bags instead of plastic bags, recycle paper, plastics and metals, compost leftover food scraps.
  • Take action – support local and national clean air initiatives and legislation.

Having clean air requires that we all work together to make a difference. Learn more at Clean Air Online about what is being done and what you can do to take action.


Photo credit Deb Webster.





Discover Clean Air Day – a celebration of environmentally-friendly activities that promote clean air and good health across Canada.