Edmonton

Edmonton climate expert creates air quality index for Alberta soccer leagues

Richard Dixon of the Edmonton Interdistrict Youth Soccer Association (EIYSA), worked with Alberta Environment and Environment Canada to develop a policy guideline to help soccer officials keep track of the air quality index.

Officials have been using this website to cancel games if health risks are too high

When the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) surpasses 7 on a scale of 10, referees are urged to cancel games. (CBC )

An Edmonton climate expert has developed a set of air quality guidelines designed to help other officals across the province know when to sideline games to protect players' health.

Richard Dixon of the Edmonton Interdistrict Youth Soccer Association (EIYSA) worked with Alberta Environment and Environment Canada to develop the rules.

Before the wildfire in Fort McMurray last year, Dixon said the province of Alberta had few high-risk air quality days.

"Fort McMurray was the kicker," Dixon said. "During the event, we saw a lot of confusion ... some referees would cancel, some wouldn't .... so we put together some recommendations."

Soccer referees are now asked to check the Air Quality Health Index website, just as they might check for thunderstorm updates before canceling a soccer game.

When the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) surpasses 7 on a scale of 10 in Edmonton, Calgary or Red Deer, referees are urged to cancel games, Dixon said.

At that level, the index suggests limiting strenuous outdoor activities, especially for children and the elderly.

"You could taste the smoke on the field at this level," he said. "It'll make the air hazy."

15 years in the making

Dixon started developing the index 15 years ago at the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, under the federal government of Paul Martin. The technology and the science used to track the Air Quality Health Index was only completed recently.

The AQHI website was not originally intended to be used by sport officials, but when Dixon's wife suffered burns on 40 per cent of her lungs on a day with a high air quality health risk, he said he knew he had to approach the Alberta Soccer Association.

"She's had long-term side effects like trouble breathing, headaches, and is still trying to recover," he said.

The Alberta Soccer Association adopted the air quality policy in November. The association and the EIYSA are already seeing the benefits, according to Dixon.

"I just got off the phone with a parent actually, and they're very thankful to us," Dixon said. "They're glad that they know what to do."

Dixon said Environment Canada is testing out an air quality health index policy with other outdoor sports, including ultimate frisbee and football.

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais

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