As wildfires continue to burn in provinces across Canada, and as national air quality advisories are issued, Canadians are becoming aware of the need to prepare for climate extremes, with some vulnerable populations at a higher risk of health problems.

Today is Clean Air Day, an opportunity to recognize how important good air quality is to our health, our environment, and the economy. It was first celebrated in 1999 when Canada declared Clean Air Day an annual celebration during Canadian Environment Week.

Air pollution knows no boundaries. It can affect every area of Canada including urban and rural areas. That’s why this year’s theme is “Clean Air Everywhere”.

Canada’s air quality has improved significantly over the last several decades, and our air is consistently ranked among the cleanest in the world according to the World Health Organization. There is, however, still room for improvement. Air pollution impacts the health of many people in Canada, contributing to over 15,000 premature deaths each year.

Air pollution can travel far from its source. For example, wildfire smoke, a major source of air pollution in Canada during the summer months, can affect air quality in rural and urban areas thousands of kilometres away from the fire zone. Wood-burning appliances contribute to air pollution in many rural and urban locations, and air pollutant emissions can impact both indoor and outdoor air quality. Sources of pollution in urban centres include vehicles, construction and industries.

“This week, unprecedented spring wildfires continue to burn from Nova Scotia to Quebec to Alberta. Climate impacts like this are intensifying, while the costs of fossil fuels continue to rise, worsening the affordability crisis for families in Canada,” said Stephen Thomas, clean energy manager for the David Suzuki Foundation. “There has never been a better time for the federal government to lock in regulations for affordable, secure, renewable electricity for everyone in Canada by 2035, and leave fossil fuel power behind once and for all.”

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Thomas was instrumental in launching a new campaign that puts the emphasis on clean and affordable sources of energy, entitled Renewable Power for All. “We’re just getting started in the effort to secure these renewable power benefits for communities. We can’t let fossil fuel executives get the loopholes they’re lobbying for in the upcoming clean electricity regulations. Special treatment to maintain record profits for oil and gas would mean getting stuck with more expensive, unhealthy, uncompetitive electricity in Canada for decades to come.”

With the health of millions of Canadians being threatened by various wildfires currently burning, the Lung Health Foundation is reminding anyone living with a lung disease to take extra precautions in protecting their lung health.

“Forest fires release harmful pollutants and smoke which can have adverse effects on respiratory health,” cautions Jessica Buckley, president and CEO of the Lung Health Foundation. “Inhalation of wildfire smoke can cause immediate respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure may lead to chronic respiratory issues.”

The Certified Respiratory Educators that manage the Lung Health Line recommend that individuals reduce outdoor activity when wildfire smoke levels are high.

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