Breathe the World’s Best Air
By Elli Davis, October 1, 2011
Power Station by Foto43
Have you ever heard people complain about how cities are dangerous and will damage your health? During the 2008 Summer Olympics, China had to take drastic measures to purify its urban air. Not only were residents discouraged from driving and factories shut down during this event, there were also air blowers and aircraft working to disperse the smog cover that normally surrounds Beijing. Despite all the efforts, athletes still complained that they had difficulties breathing and could not perform at their best due to the heavily polluted air.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Canada. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Canada’s cities dominate the rankings with the best air quality in the world.
Risks of Air Pollution
WHO decided to measure air pollution levels in various cities and countries to supplement medical and health research and provide quality information for policymakers. In its “Outdoor Air Pollution” document, the WHO analyzes air pollution as a health risk factor that has the potential to indicate the expected disease burden for each respective population. To put things into perspective, outdoor air pollution is estimated to account for 1.4 per cent of total mortality and other common health complications.
The indicator used by the WHO is the combined mass of microscopic airborne particles (dubbed particulate matter) per cubic metre, measured in micrograms. The document states that the burden of diseases in urban areas “will vary due to factors such as the amount of fossil fuel used, weather, underlying disease rates, and population size and density.” It also asserts that regions more dependent on coal, areas with little air circulation (wind), and cities with a lot of traffic are exposed to a greater health risk.
Canada’s Stellar Position
Spring is in the Air by Jay-P
From among 91 countries and 1,100 cities worldwide, Canadian cities took eight of the the Top 10 least polluted cities in the study. Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital, ranked first, far ahead of all the other examined cities with only 2.9 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre. According to this article of The Toronto Star, Whitehorse is followed by Kitimat and Burns Lake, both in British Columbia. And BC took three more spots in the Top 10 with Nanaimo, Terrace, and Nelson.
Nearly all Canadian cities were found to have less than WHO-recommended 20 micrograms per cubic metre. In fact, the most polluted Canadian city is Sarnia, Ontario, with a “mere” 21.2 µg/m3. Canada’s advantage in this regard is its low population density even in metropolitan areas and strict regulations and control mechanisms.
As a whole, only Estonia in Europe, and Mauritius, an island east of Madagascar, had better overall results than the Canadian average. Somewhat surprisingly, the country with the worst air pollution is Mongolia (likely its capital of Ulaanbaatar), closely followed by some cities in India, Pakistan, and Iran.
How do you take advantage of the great air in your own Toronto neighbourhood? Let us know in the comments please!