Oct 2, 2012
Looking back over the month of September — a time normally reserved for back to school busyness, shorter days and cooler evenings — a few of our neighbouring BC Interior communities, (Peachland and Falkland, for example), were instead focused on forest fires, evacuation information and updates on potential property damage.
We pay close attention to these kinds of stories, from near and far, for a couple of reasons. In this case, the neighbouring communities are not far from our home base of Kamloops, British Columbia. But equally important, as a communication firm focused on air and health, we listen for the messages and advice offered to help people living in wild fire areas manage their health during times of air quality degradation. In the past few weeks we witnessed such messages from health agencies and the media.
Yet, information from government and health organizations on air pollution and both its short and long term health effects is a fairly new area of health communication, in Canada and abroad. A decade ago people didn’t hear the kinds of health advice we do today related to paying attention and taking actions on poor air days. It took a decision by our federal government of the day, in 2001, to address the short-comings of Canada’s existing Air Quality Index and create a new Index, focused on health effects, to help people manage. More than 10 years later, we now have the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) available to more than 80 communities across Canada. It calculates air pollutants at the local level that are most likely to affect health and provides suggestions on how best to manage one’s health.
The AQHI was introduced to Canadians in 2008 and, since then, there has been a continued focus by government on promoting the benefits of checking the Index daily – similar to how we check the weather and take our medication.
Which leads me back to the forest fires. There are few events that increase awareness and understanding of the impacts of air quality on health more than smoke from forest fires. Whether burning in our own backyard, or as we experienced in Western Canada in Spring 2012, travelling to us from fires as far off as Russia, it gets our attention.
And the more we pay attention to the effect air quality has on our health, and to tools like Canada’s AQHI, on good air days and bad ones, the better. Don’t wait until the next smokey day to learn about the benefits of this important air quality health tool.