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The Air Quality Index and What It Means for Your Health

indoor air quality

Just this year, science has finally been able to pinpoint the precise moment oxygen first appeared on Earth (2.33 billion years ago, in case you're curious).

But this isn't the biggest news our planet has produced this year. Recently, we made international headlines yet again when scientists discovered that our precious storehouse of oxygen is mysteriously escaping from our atmosphere every day.

While the leakage rates to date are considered very minimal (around 90 tonnes per day), oxygen is one of two primary elements that makes up our air supply (along with nitrogen). According to Historica Canada, this means that as oxygen levels decline, there is the potential for an increased health impact from airborne pollutants both indoors and outdoors.

In this post, learn more about how air quality is measured, how to use those measurements to control your exposure to toxins, and what you can do to purify your air supply.

Canada's Air Quality Health Index (AQHI)

Both nationally and on a province-specific level, Canada has passed a series of Clean Air Acts to regulate air quality. As well, the country uses the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to help us regulate our exposure to potential toxins.

The AQHI measures a particular set of very common pollutants, including ozone, nitrous dioxide, and particulate matter. The AQHI has designated four levels of risk: low, moderate, high, and very high.

The higher the risk rating, the higher the level of toxins in the air supply. The rating is available on a provincial level. For Ontario residents, the local interactive AQHI is updated on a daily basis and is always available here:

Canada's Ultraviolet (UV) Index

In partnership with the AQHI, Canada has developed the UV Index to help us learn when it is more and less safe to be exposed to direct sunlight. The level of safety directly relates to the thickness (or lack thereof) of the ozone level.

Canadian meteorologists measure the strength of the sun's UV rays every day at solar noon and update the UV Index with the results.

The levels of risk range from 0 (no risk) to 11+ (very extreme risk). Daily UV ratings for all provinces and major cities are posted HERE.

How to Control Your Local Outdoor Air Pollution

It goes without saying that you have relatively little ability to control the toxicity or purity of your local outdoor air. But there are things you can do on a personal level to reduce the potential influx of toxins into the local outdoor air supply, including but certainly not limited to these activities:

  • Bike or walk to work or telecommute if your company permits. This cuts down on carbon emissions from buses and cars.

  • Use less fossil fuel. Run your A/C and heat less frequently, turn off lights when you are not at home, opt for energy-efficient appliances, and use energy incentives to install solar panels.

  • Recycle! Reuse and recycle everything you can to reduce landfill waste and toxic emissions from fuel production plants.

  • Become a clean air spokesperson. By sharing your activities with others, you can inspire them to join you in reducing the volume of pollutants that enter your local outdoor air supply.

How to Control Your Personal Indoor Air Pollution

Happily, there is a great deal more you can do to control the level of air pollution seeping into your indoor air supply. You will have the greatest control over air quality in your own home, of course, but you can also take these principles and apply them to your workplace as your employer permits.

Here are some actions you can take right now to begin purifying and cleaning your indoor air supply at home:

  • Switch to all-natural cleaning products. Truly, there is no need to bathe yourself and your indoor air in harsh chemicals when you can use these all-natural cleaning products instead. Take a look at our recipes for The Best Natural Home Cleaners to Maintain Good Air Quality!

  • Bring in some houseplants. Even NASA is a fan of using houseplants to keep your indoor air clean and well-oxygenated. Take a look at our list of the Top Ten Houseplants for Improving Indoor Air Quality.

  • Opt for essential oils instead of chemical air fresheners and fragrances. Enjoy fresh fragrances and keep your air truly fresh by switching to non-toxic essential oils, fresh citrus juice, soy candles, dried herbs, teas, and other safe scents.

  • Change your air filters at least every 30 days. A clean air filter is always going to do a better job than a dirty one of catching toxins and keeping them out of your indoor air supply.

  • Ventilate your home thoroughly. Floor and ceiling fans, open windows and doors on nice days, heat recovery ventilators, air purifiers, and air filtration systems all can ensure the air inside your home is always fresh and never stale.

  • Use HEPA-rated filters for your HVAC system and vacuum cleaner. HEPA stands for "high-efficiency particulate air," and these filters use air forced through mesh to clean out 99.97 percent of airborne toxins, including fine particulate matter other filters cannot hope to catch.

  • Have your dryer vents professionally cleaned. Your dryer is a great place for dust, dander, mites, mould spores, and other toxins to hide. Having your dryer vents professionally cleaned removes a common source of recycled toxins all in one fell swoop.

  • Have your air ducts professionally cleaned. The single greatest concentration of indoor airborne toxins resides in your HVAC system's air ducts. Having your air ducts professionally cleaned removes nearly all recirculated pollutants from your indoor air all at once, leaving your air supply fresh, clean, and pure.

For many more tips, check out our 51 Tips For Improving Your Indoor Air Quality.

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