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Poor air quality is lowering life expectancy in SW Ontario

Rachel Schoutsen
Presenter, The Weather Network

Friday, December 7, 2018, 6:22 PM - In today’s health-conscious world we are so concerned as to what we put in our bodies, but how much do you know about the air you breathe?

The “Air Quality Life Index” was created by researchers at the University of Chicago to help people understand the air quality in their region and how it may affect their life expectancy. It works by measuring the amount of particulate pollution in the atmosphere.

The numbers are then compared to the World Health Organization's standard of 10.

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Anything exceeding a 10 is highlighted. The deeper the red, the more severe.


As we look at Canada as a whole, we are doing extremely well when it comes to our air quality. On average our particulate pollution reading is at 5.6 points.

However, there is one region that has tipped the scale when it comes to pollution. Essex county (near Windsor, Ontario) comes in at 11 which is officially over the WHO’s standard.

People in the region are currently seeing 0.1 years, or one month, lost in life expectancy due to air quality. Michael Greenstone, a professor at the University of Chicago and one of the researchers who contributed to the project, told The Weather Network that pollution in one region does not stay put. It has the ability to travel far distances.

“Clean air does not happen by accident,” he said via Skype from his Chicago office.

“We are able to calculate these numbers using two methods. One is the relationship between particulate matter (PM) and life expectancy. And the second is to look at satellite data of PM2.5 concentrations from around the world. We combine these two things to find out how much longer people in each part of the world would live if their region met WHO health standards.”

Poor air quality has been connected to health issues in the region.

In 2005 The Ontario Medical Association estimated that in Essex County (including Windsor), there were 260 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions and 2,750 emergency visits associated with poor air quality. Researchers expect hospitalizations to increase through to the year 2026.

Experts can explain the reasons behind pollution. However, seeing change in everyday living to assist with pollution, that’s a harder task.


In Uttar Pradesh, India, the particulate pollution reading is at 98.1. As a result, almost 9 years has been decreased from life expectancy.

China is having similar issues. In Tianjin the reading is 72.6, taking 6 years off the average life.


When compared to parts of India and China, the life index rating in Essex County doesn't seem alarming, but does provide a reason to look into improving air quality in southwestern Ontario.

“Much of the air pollution affecting Windsor comes from upwind sources, such as coal-powered electricity generating stations and industries," the City of Windsor says in a statement.

"Second to these cross-border emissions, Windsor is also highly affected by emissions from transportation corridors. The Windsor-Detroit gateway is the busiest international trade corridor in North America.”


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