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Is It Safe To Venture Outside Today?

Each morning I watch the news; I want to hear what the roads are like (unexpected lane closures in the downtown core are annoying for cyclists, too) and what the weather is supposed to do that day. I've gotten used to hearing about the Air Quality Index, as well. Tuesday morning, I heard the weatherman say "smog alert" and I couldn't believe we were starting with that business already!

Yesterday's high temperature of 28 degrees C broke the record set in 1939 by a degree, but I bet 27 degrees in 1939 felt a lot different than 27 degrees nowadays. Southern Ontario is trapped in a geographic bowl, with a steamy cloud of pollution all around us. In an effort to better understand the physical repercussions of smog days, the province has unveiled a new index, measuring air quality and its affects on our health. It's called the AQHI (Air Quality Health Index).

The old index system is being replaced because it was based on out-of-date health science. It was fairly vague, and only took into account when one pollutant (in a range of pollutants) breached a pre-set threshold. The new system will be much easier to follow, and concentrates on the three main air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. They expect it to be efficient enough to produce hourly readings, with the ability to give a two-day forecast on air quality.

Here's the breakdown:
0-3: Low health risk
4-6: Moderate health risk
7-10: High health risk
10+: Very high health risk
(more detailed information on the scale, including accompanying health messages for each level of risk)

The new system will go into affect this July. So, before you leave the house this summer, check the AQHI to see how your health will be affected by the "life-giving" air we have to breathe. While you're at it, you might as well check the UV report, to see how much our "life-giving" sun will burn you. Is it just me, or are the morning weather reports getting scarier and scarier?


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