Lab Canada

$1M funding for study to assess health effects of air pollution

Ottawa, ON & Vancouver, BC – May 21, 2004 – The federal government is allocating $1 million over the next year to fund research on the human health impacts of air pollution in support of the Georgia Basin/Puget Sound international airshed strategy, one of three pilot projects under the Canada-United States border air quality strategy.

Health Canada is working with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, and the Universities of British Columbia, Victoria and Washington to determine exactly how much air pollution individuals are exposed to in their day-to-day lives.

“This research will help us pinpoint the negative impacts of air pollution on our health and lead to a more informed understanding of air quality impacts on human health, particularly in relation to vulnerable populations,” said Dr Ray Copes, medical director for environmental health at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control.

Researchers will use a new method developed by European researchers, in collaboration with Dr Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia, to determine exposure levels by postal code for the study area. In urban areas this represents less than one city block. The research team will consider factors such as measured air quality; population density; traffic data; emission sources such as local industry and wood smoke; prevailing weather conditions; and the topography of the land. All of this information will be then sorted by postal code in a computerized database so that health impacts in each local area can be compared to local air quality conditions. Previous methods of assessing human exposure to air pollution relied on sparsely located air quality monitoring stations, which do not accurately reflect exposure at the local level. This is because they do not take into account factors such as local traffic or small neighbourhood sources that might lead to a higher local concentration of pollutants.

Once this database of information on each postal code has been established, researchers will assess the impacts of air pollution on young children and births to women living in the study area. Birth outcomes and the health of children will be tracked using the BC Linked Health Database. The results of this study will show if there is a relationship between air pollution and adverse birth outcomes or respiratory disease in children.

While air quality in BC’s Georgia Basin and Washington’s Puget Sound generally meets relevant standards, there is a pressing need to “keep clean areas clean” by anticipating and addressing the potential negative impacts of future growth in an area where the population is expected to increase from six to nine million by 2020. Recent research findings also show that air quality continues to have negative health impacts even when standards are met.

These new health studies will also contribute to the development of a cross-boundary strategy for coordinated airshed management and support governments during future international negotiations on improving air quality.