Air pollution affects the respiratory system (lungs and airways), cardiovascular system (heart function and blood circulation) and major organs (heart and lungs). As air pollution increases it becomes harder to breathe. The respiratory system can become irritated, which may trigger asthma attacks and cause lung disease. Poor air quality can also make existing heart and lung conditions worse and possibly cause premature death.
While poor air quality affects everyone, people who are in the high-risk category are affected to a higher degree. This includes children, the elderly and those with pre-existing cardiac (heart) and respiratory diseases such as coronary artery disease (angina or heart attack), heart rhythm problems, heart failure, chronic pulmonary disease and asthma.
- The World Health Organization estimates that in 2016, 4.2 million premature deaths around the world were linked to air pollution
- Air pollution can cause heart disease, stroke and respiratory infections in children
- In 2016, 91% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met
- Canada has the 3rd highest rate of childhood asthma linked to air pollution - 450 per 100,000
Airsheds are geographical areas where the air confined or channelled, often by landscaped features like mountains. The air can become stagnant or polluted.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) carbon-containing compounds (natural and synthetic) such as gasoline fumes, paints and solvents.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) are gases composed of nitrogen and oxygen. The largest source of nitrogen oxides is fossil fuel combustion from cars.
Ground level ozone is a colourless and highly irritating gas that forms just above the Earth's surface. It occurs when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in sunlight and stagnant air.
Energy generation is the number one cause of air pollution and one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Coal is the dirtiest burning of the fossil fuels, producing soot, smog, acid rain, global warming, and high carbon emissions.
- Petroleum (oil and gas) is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Refining petroleum creates air pollution and turning crude oil into petrochemicals releases dangerous toxins into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is released when gasoline burns.
- Wood fireplaces: Wood is a renewable resource if the forest is managed sustainably. However, the smoke and soot from burning wood are a significant source of air pollution. The burning of wood releases fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, dioxins, and furans. Some research is showing that burning wood can cause more pollution than burning coal.
- Natural gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel that also contributes to air pollution and has environmental and health risks. Although carbon emissions from burning natural gas are lower than with coal and oil, the drilling, extracting and transportation of natural gas, which is primarily methane, often results in methane leakage, which is 35x more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.
- Biomass: Wood pellet stoves are generally made from compacted sawdust, so they are considered renewable. High efficiency wood pellet stoves have very high burn efficiencies and that combined with the pellet density result in very low particulate emissions, and less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.
- Nuclear is a renewable energy but it’s not entirely clean. Although it’s emission-free, it results in radioactive, high-level waste (HLW), which needs to be dealt with safely. Nuclear power also requires the mining of uranium, an environmentally and health hazardous process.
- Solar is a renewable energy source that does not produce air pollution. However, the primary material currently used for solar cells is silicon derived from quartz. The quartz is mined and heated in a furnace, resulting in sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions.
- Wind is a clean renewable energy source producing no air pollution. Wind turbine design has changed significantly in the last few decades to reduce the impact on bird and bat mortality.
- Hydropower is a clean renewable energy source. However, there are environmental impacts to building hydroelectric dams, as they can harm fish populations, change water temperature and flow, and can cause the relocation of people and animals who live near the dam site. With a careful environmental planning process, many of these impacts can be reduced.
- Geo-exchange is a clean energy source that takes advantage of the fact that the ground temperature approximately 0.75m from the surface is fairly constant through both winter and summer. The heat from the ground is used in the winter and the system reverses in the summer to take cool air from the ground.
Read more information on B.C. air quality and airsheds here.