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People & Planetary Health

Every one needs clean air to breathe. Pollutants in the air are harmful to people and the planet.

Air pollution is considered one of biggest environmental threats to human health

Whilst high profile air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ground level ozone are present in the Williams Lake Airshed, it is particulate matter (PM) and Nitrous Oxides (NOx) that appear to represent the greatest local threat to human, plant, animal and ecosystem health.

Beyond the impacts on overall human health, air pollutants can also directly damage plant cells.  Considered an important indicator of ecosystem health, our forests and food crops are impacted greatly by the composition of the air. 

Linking air quality to food security, pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone and sulphur dioxide (SO2) are estimated to be responsible for the loss of hundreds of millions of tons of food crops annually.  

What goes up must come down.  That which damages plants also impacts the soil and enters the water. Various cancer causing chemicals released into the air, such as heavy metals, herbicides (glyphosphate) and dioxins that are not inhaled, may still be ingested as food or drank as water.

When it comes to particulates in the air, size maters.

Made up of pollen, pollutants, microbes and many other mini molecules, the smaller the particle, the deeper it travels in the lung. Airborne dust with a diameter of 10 micrometers (μm) – commonly referred to as PM10 – is easily inhaled but get traps in the upper airways, irritating the nose and throat.

Respirable particulates, such as those from vehicle exhaust, viruses and wildfire smoke, with a diameter of less than 2.5μm (PM2.5), can only be seen with a powerful microscope.

Smaller particles are understood to be more harmful because they are inhaled into the deepest regions of our lungs (alveoli). Here they cause inflammation and injury at the place where gas exchange occurs. Ultra-fine particles and toxic gases go further and are able to gain direct access to the blood stream.

Check out this cool graphic illustrating the relative size of particles (visual capitalist).

Everyone is exposed to air pollution. Well understood to increase risk of premature death from heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, it is beneficial to reduce exposure whenever possible. Maintaining good overall health is an important way to prevent negative health effects resulting from exposure to air pollution.

Monitoring stations in Williams Lake continuously sample ambient air 
for PM10 and PM2.5.

Healthy people are more resilient to poor air quality, while children are considered more vulnerable because they breathe faster, inhale more air per kilogram of body weight, and have developing organs and immune systems. Elders, and those with underlying conditions, especially those related to heart and lung are more vulnerable to harm from polluted air.

Visit the Health Canada website learn about pollutants of particular concern to Air Quality.

Inhaled pollutants irritate, inflame or destroy lung tissue. Studies in B.C. associate at least 82 deaths annually with inhalation of fine particulate matter. Inhalation of particulate matter exacerbates heart and lung conditions and increases hospitalization of those suffering from chronic respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

Check out the BC State of the Air Report. Published annually by the BC Lung Association’s Air Quality and Health Steering Committee, the BC State of the Air Report provides a snapshot of current air quality across the province, information about pollutants of greatest concern from a human health perspective, and the various actions underway in BC to address these issues.