Toronto Public Health encourages everyone to follow Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) for current air quality indicators in Toronto and how to protect your health from air pollution and wildfire smoke.
Toronto, like many parts of Canada and the U.S., has been experiencing more frequent air quality events this year due to smoke from wildfires.
Air pollution can cause cardiovascular and respiratory health problems, affect birth outcomes, brain development and function, and is linked to cancer, chronic diseases (including diabetes), and other illnesses.
TPH estimates that air pollution in Toronto from all sources currently contributes to 1,300 premature deaths and 3,550 hospitalizations annually.
Recent trends in levels of the five most common air pollutants suggest that air quality in Toronto is improving. However, more still needs to be done to curb emissions in the City.
See below to learn more about how to protect yourself from air pollution, what you can do to reduce air pollution emissions.
Reducing your exposure to air pollution and wildfire smoke is the best way to protect your health. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a valuable tool for assessing air quality and deciding what actions you should take. When the AQHI is moderate or high, it will be updated with advice for the general population and at-risk groups.
People react differently to air pollution, including wildfire smoke. Some people are at a higher risk of health problems when exposed to air pollution, including seniors, pregnant people, infants and young children, and people with chronic heart or lung conditions. People who work outdoors or who exercise outdoors are at greater risk of adverse effects due to breathing in more of the contaminants in air pollution and wildfire smoke. Very sensitive individuals may experience severe and frequent symptoms when outdoors, while mildly sensitive individuals may only experience mild and infrequent or no symptoms after high exposures to air pollution.
Mild irritation and discomfort are common symptoms from exposure to wildfire smoke, and usually disappear when the smoke clears. Drinking lots of water can help your body cope with the smoke. Monitor the AQHI regularly during wildfire smoke events as AQHI levels can change hour-to-hour.
Check the AQHI and recommended health messages regularly, especially when considering outdoor events and activities. At-risk groups should pay careful attention to the AQHI health messages to reduce their exposure to air pollution when AQHI levels are elevated. People at higher risk of health effects should consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities.
People organizing outdoor events should assess the AQHI and consider the following when making decisions about holding, continuing, or modifying an event:
People participating in sports outdoors breathe more deeply and rapidly, increasing their exposure to air pollution. When the AQHI is moderate or high, it is important to reduce the intensity of activities or reschedule events, especially if participants start experiencing symptoms.
Check the AQHI forecast for Toronto and recommended health messages regularly, especially during periods of poor air quality. Find out if you might be at higher risk of health problems from air pollution like wildfire smoke and adjust your activities accordingly. Protect your health when the AQHI is high or very high due to wildfire smoke. Check on the people around you during periods of poor air quality if you can.
An emission is a pollutant that is discharged to the environment, like the exhaust from cars and trucks or smoke from wood-burning. Emissions from traffic and homes, including houses and apartments, are the biggest contributors to air pollution emitted in Toronto. Finding ways to reduce your energy use both at home and on the road will help to reduce emissions and lead to cleaner air for everyone.
You can take steps to reduce the amount of emissions that enter your home during periods of poor air quality including wildfire smoke events:
Other measures to keep indoor air clean:
If you have trouble maintaining cool, clean air inside your home during a wildfire smoke event, take a break from the smoke at a safe public place that typically has air conditioning and filtered air including:
Due to climate change, wildfires have become an increasingly significant concern worldwide, causing widespread impact on ecosystems, communities, and public health. The effects of wildfires extend beyond the immediate vicinity of the fire, as smoke can travel long distances, impacting air quality in distant regions.
In June 2023, Toronto experienced the consequences of wildfire smoke on its air quality, which can affect the health of the population, especially for people who are vulnerable and disproportionately impacted by poor air quality. In response to these unprecedented air quality impacts, Toronto Public Health (TPH) has prepared this initial Wildfire Smoke Response Strategy.