New air quality index measures health risk

Albertans can breathe a little easier now, thanks to a system of air quality monitoring known as the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI).

Albertans can breathe a little easier now, thanks to a system of air quality monitoring known as the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI).

The province has adopted a modified version of the national monitoring system that gives up-to-the-hour reports on the air we breathe.

One of the features of the AQHI is that it includes a forecasting component that predicts what the air quality will be later in the day.

Leigh Allard of the Alberta Lung Association said that information will help those suffering from health conditions.

"This index will really help inform people to protect them, so they can actually modify whether they are going outside and spending a lot of time outside or if they will actually figure out other things indoors," Allard said.

The modified Alberta system takes advantage of the forecasting aspects of the AQHI, while continuing to report more frequently and on more elements specific to Alberta’s air quality.

"Working together, Alberta and Canada have developed a tailor-made air quality reporting system for our province," said Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner. "We’ve taken the federal government’s world-leading AQHI and made it even better for the needs of Albertans."

The province’s former Air Quality Index measured two additional components to the federal system, unique to the province’s oil and gas industry. It also reported data hourly, rather than every three hours.

AQHI scale of 1 to 10 determines health risk

Under Alberta’s adoption of the AQHI, these components and two others — hydrogen sulphide and total reduced sulphur — will be measured, while also giving Albertans notice when visibility is a concern and when odours may be detected. The hourly reporting frequency will be maintained.

The AQHI works on a scale from one to 10 to determine the health risk for the general population and for those with respiratory conditions.

"Information can be very powerful when it comes to your health," said Dr. André Corriveau, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

"Alberta enjoys good air quality most of the time, but it’s important that those who are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution have information at their fingertips to take precautions should air quality deteriorate."

The AQHI is available in more than 20 communities across Alberta. The forecast component will first be available in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Fort McKay and Fort McMurray, with the remaining communities added later this year and in early 2012.

Information on the new Air Quality Health Index is available online at