The air quality alert programme in Toronto (Canada) had limited effects in protecting the public’s health from air pollution between 2003 and 2012…

The observational study of 2,6 million people was published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal on 9 January 2018

Air quality alert warnings

Toronto has low to moderate air pollution levels, but spikes in air pollution remain common. On these days, authorities issue air quality alerts to warn the public and encourage people to reduce physical activities outdoors. However, there is little evidence on whether or not these types of alerts have led to improvements in public health.

Best addressed through collective and enforceable actions

The study authors suggest that air pollution problems may be best addressed through collective and enforceable actions. These could include improved urban and transportation planning, and improved fuel standards and emission control (especially targeting power generation and industries that contribute significantly to air pollution), rather than advising individuals and leaving to them to protect themselves from the harmful effects of air pollution.

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Air pollution spikes

“In recent decades, ambient air quality has improved in many regions, but occasional spikes in air pollution remain common in high-income countries. These increases can trigger many adverse health effects, and so, in response, government agencies have implemented air quality alert programmes to inform the public of the potential dangers,” says lead author Dr Hong Chen, Public Health Ontario, Canada.

“Findings of our study show that air quality alert programmes offer inadequate protection for public health. This highlights the need for implementing enforceable public actions to reduce air pollution,” adds Dr Chen.

Other countries

While it is unclear whether these results from a country with low to moderate air pollution levels can be applied to countries with severe air pollution such as China and India, the authors note that the findings could be relevant for cities in many parts of Europe and North America.

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