Making a Difference

Air Aware

In May 2016 the people of Alberta experienced a severe forest fire season beginning with the Fort McMurray fire. The air quality from this and other forest fires rose to unprecedented Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) numbers throughout the province that warned of dangerous air conditions. At the time there were no policies in place for any sport or school board regarding when air quality conditions warrant play stoppage – in other words, regulatory failure.

This failure, coupled with the personal experiences of RASAC’s members with the health damage that can occur with such events, suggested to RASAC that we should use our expertise and networks to eliminate this risk for people, especially our young athletes. Thus RASAC brought together scientists and policy experts from Alberta Environment, Alberta Health, and Health Canada to establish Air Aware – a policy guideline for outdoor sports experiencing poor air quality.

The AQHI was developed by Health Canada.  It is available as a web-based, risk management tool which describes a local reading of air quality as it relates to human health. While the Index number for a location can rise into the triple digits (Fort McMurray in 2016 peaked at over “100”) anything over “7” is considered high risk to human health.  Click here to get the latest Alberta AQHI calculation and local AQHI values.  The AQHI Canada app provides hourly AQHI readings and daily forecasts for communities across Canada.

On the basis of Health Canada recommendations and peer-reviewed science (see full report here), the precautionary principle suggests that matches or practices should be abandoned when there is an AQHI value of “7” or over.  The Alberta Soccer Association has adopted this guideline as a trigger for cancelling or rescheduling games and practices.

In 2020, Health Canada contracted RASAC to determine the impact of the 2017-2019 efforts by RASAC and Health Canada to increase the use of the AQHI and policies by sporting organizations for managing outdoor sporting activities during adverse air quality events. It was decided that this determination was best made by creating two surveys.  The first is for the sporting organizations and the second survey is for members and participants of outdoor sporting organizations throughout Western Canada. This report supplies the results of the two surveys. Further information on the focus of two surveys is given below.

Two surveys were designed to determine the impact that the 2017-2019 efforts made on the use of the AQHI during outdoor events in Western Canada when outdoor air quality is poor.  Links to the organization lists, the surveys and their data can be found on the RASAC website here. One survey was for organizations that are involved in outdoor organized sporting events and the other survey was for individuals, parents, and game officials (coaches). The results of these two surveys determined the impact of the 2017-2019 efforts by RASAC and Health Canada. the surveys were seeking information on:

  • The level of awareness of the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI),
  • The use of AQHI in making outdoor activity decisions,
  • Current policies or guidelines related to adverse air quality, and
  • Barriers to adverse air quality policy or guideline adoption

The first survey asked for information from organization leaders. The second survey was designed to gather similar information from an individual, family, teacher, or team/event organizer perspective.