The Healthy Communities Campaign
Your Environment. Your Community. Your Health.
Climate change has profound impacts on our social, built and natural environments. This influences environmental factors that shape our health, from clean air and drinking water, to exposure to harmful substances and diseases. Pollution Probe’s Healthy Communities Campaign is a free, easy-to-join initiative for workplaces, providing valuable information about what you can do to reduce the health effects associated with climate change – such as tips for preventing Lyme disease, coping with extreme heat, and minimizing risk of cardiovascular disease from air pollution. We offer monthly workplace newsletters inserts, lunch-and-learn tools, custom articles and more.
Let’s take action together to protect our health in a changing climate!
Climate Change, Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation
Most Canadians spend a significant portion of their time indoors. As we work to address climate change, one of the actions we can take is to improve the energy efficiency of our homes through adding insulation and sealing air leaks through caulking, weather-stripping, and other weatherization measures. Taking these positive steps should be accompanied by an understanding of the importance of proper ventilation as well, to protect our health.
Take appropriate ventilation actions when using the following:
- Gas ranges and space heaters. Use a range hood or fan to draw contaminated air outdoors directly at the source where possible. Opening a window slightly will improve indoor air quality, but will result in slightly lower home energy efficiency.
- Open wood fireplaces. Ensure sufficient fresh air intake into the home through opening a window slightly to enable smoke and particulates to leave the home through the chimney.
- Home improvement activities. Painting, paint stripping, welding, sanding, or using pesticides cause indoor air pollution. Conduct these tasks outside where possible, or open a window during these activities. Consider choosing low-emission paints and varnishes.
- Avoid smoking indoors, or open a window while smoking to avoid the health impacts of second-hand smoke.
Advanced designs of some new homes, or renovated homes, may feature mechanical systems that bring outdoor air into the home, through heat recovery ventilators. These units maximize the energy efficiency of bringing fresh outdoor air into the home by transferring the heat from the outgoing air.
It’s important to ventilate bathrooms and kitchens to prevent mould growth, which has respiratory and allergy-related health impacts. Too much humidity in a well-sealed home can also cause mould growth. And as flood risks grow with climate change, we will see more danger from mould growth in affected homes. Use kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans when cooking and showering. More information is to come when we spotlight mould in December.
Radon gas forms naturally in the ground and can seep into buildings. Exposure to high levels over the long-term is a leading cause of lung cancer in Canada. Testing your home for radon is the only way to know if you are being exposed to high levels – and is particularly important as homes becomes increasingly well insulated and energy efficient. Find out more in November’s focus on radon.
Radon Protection Coming Soon in November 2017!
Join the Healthy Communities Campaign Newsletter here!
Stay updated & receive information to help you protect your health in a changing climate.
Climate Change, Vector-Borne Disease and Health
In North America, mosquitoes are often associated with carrying diseases over great distances. With climate change, mosquitoes and other vectors – organisms that can transmit disease to humans or animals – such as ticks, flies and fleas are increasingly carrying infectious diseases further north.
Scientists agree that the effects of climate change will include more sporadic and irregular precipitation, with longer periods of drought separated by more intense rainfall; and increasing average temperatures. These conditions may enable vectors – and the diseases they carry – to extend their populations and increase their ranges. This, in turn, will increase the chances that humans contract vector-borne diseases.
This month, the Healthy Communities focuses on two important vector-borne diseases for Canada; Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus. Understanding common symptoms and taking simple, preventative steps can greatly reduce your chances of contracting them.
Infected black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) can transmit Lyme Disease to people through bites. Black-legged ticks are most often found in (but are not limited to) forests, wooded areas, shrubs, tall grass and leaf piles.
Information on areas designated as risk areas by the Public Health Agency of Canada is available here. However, it is important to note that infected ticks can also exist outside of these areas.
While symptoms of Lyme disease can vary, early signs typically occur 3 to 30 days after a bite by an infected tick. These may include: rash (sometimes shaped like a bull’s eye), fever, chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint aches.
If left untreated, more severe symptoms may occur and can last from months to years; including severe headaches, additional skin rashes, facial paralysis, intermittent muscle, joint, tendon and bone aches, heart disorders, neurological disorders, and arthritis.
How To Protect Yourself
When spending time outdoors, you can take important precautionary steps:
- Wear clothing that covers exposed skin, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and tuck your socks into your pants
- Use bug repellent, especially around your wrists, ankles and neck
- Stay on trails or paths to avoid long brush or grasses
- Check your body for ticks once you return indoors
- If bitten, remove the tick safely – instructions from the Government of Canada are available here.
Infected mosquitoes can pass virus that causes West Nile from birds to humans.
Symptoms can include headaches, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. In extreme cases, West Nile Virus can result in fatal neurological disease.
However, only about 20% of people who are infected will develop severe symptoms, which appear 3 to 14 days after infection. Elderly people and those with impaired immune systems are at a highest risk of contracting symptoms.
How To Protect Yourself
You can take steps the following steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites:
- Use bug repellent, especially around your wrists, ankles and neck
- Wear clothing that covers exposed skin, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Install window screens
- Reduce mosquito habitat around your home by regularly emptying containers that may hold water, such as buckets, children’s pools or bird baths
Related News Articles
Climate Change, Air Quality and Health
Unhealthy air comes from cars and trucks, some industries and power plants, and construction equipment, to name a few sources. Natural sources like wildfires and dust also contribute to air pollution.
Depending on the length of time you are exposed, your health status and genetic background, and the concentration of pollutants, air pollution can have a negative effect on your heart and lungs. It can make it harder to breathe, irritate your lungs and airways, and worsen chronic diseases such as heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a scale developed by governments to help Canadians protect their health.
The AQHI used by the Government of Canada updates the air quality status for most cities across Canada and forecasts future maximum air quality conditions:
Find out your local Air Quality Health Index conditions here
Use the new AQHI Canada App to stay informed about outdoor air quality, plan your outdoor activities and receive alerts to find the best time to be active outdoors. Using this tool can help you protect your health by limiting exposure and adjusting outdoor activity levels during increased levels of air pollution. (Source: Air Health Check).
Download the AQHI Canada App for Android, iPhone, and iPad, or check your local forecast and AQHI conditions online at www.theweathernetwork.com.
Poor air quality affects us differently. Learn more here about those who may be at a higher risk:
- Young children
- Existing respiratory conditions
- Existing cardiovascular conditions
- Exercise or play sports outdoors
- Do strenuous work outdoors
*You may also notice symptoms if you are not in one of these groups if the air quality risk is high.
The following table provides the health messages for ‘at risk’ individuals and the general public for each of the AQHI Health Risk Categories:
Symptoms that may indicate an exposure to poor air quality include coughing or wheezing, difficulty breathing, sore throat, and irritated nose and eyes. Here are some suggestions on protecting your health:
- Time your exercise or activities for cooler times if possible, such as early morning or evening
- Drink lots of water, take lots of breaks, and modify your activity level if you feel any symptoms
- If you are someone who may be at a higher risk, talk to your health care professional about protecting your health when air pollution levels are high
- Consider the location of your activity and if possible, stay active indoors if cooler and away from traffic
Related News Articles
Climate Change, Extreme Weather and Health
As our climate changes, extreme weather events occur more frequently and with more intensity. Understanding how these weather events can affect your health is a first step towards taking protective action. For example:
Periods of extreme heat can trigger cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and in some cases can be fatal. Elderly populations are especially vulnerable – and factors including housing conditions, availability of air conditioning, and general health can also play a role.
What you can do: protect yourself from the heat!
- Plan ahead to keep cool: The best defence against heat -related illness is prevention — stay cool inside an air conditioned building, even if it is just for a couple of hours a day. If your home does not have air conditioning, choose other places that you can go to get relief from the heat (e.g., shopping malls, libraries or theatres). Timing is key: If you must be outside, limit your activities and don’t plan to do them during the warmest part of the day (between 11 am and 4 pm).
- Water intake: Increase your water intake even if you don’t feel thirsty (and be aware that alcoholic drinks are dehydrating).
- Dress for heat: Wear lightweight, light-coloured clothing. Protect your face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen!
- Listen: Listen to weather reports for “Humidex Advisories” issued by Environment Canada, and avoid unnecessary outdoor activities when the humidex is above 40˚C. Advisories are issued when temperatures are expected to exceed 30˚C, and when humidex values are expected to exceed 40˚C.
FYI: Humidex is a measure of how hot we feel, taking into account the combined effect of temperature and humidity.
Flooding is predicted to become a greater threat to communities across Canada, as rainfall becomes more intense and more irregular. In addition to damaging buildings and infrastructure, flooding impacts our water supply systems through an increase in stormwater runoff and sewer overflows. When sewer overflows occur, harmful pollutants (including pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, and heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury, silver, and zinc), as well as bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, can make their way into lakes and rivers and can pose serious risks for human health. This increases the burden on drinking water treatment facilities, and can make water bodies unsuitable for recreational activities.
What you can do: reduce runoff and watch what you flush
- Redirect your downspout: Help reduce stormwater overflows and runoff by connecting your downspout to a rain barrel or allow it to drain to a permeable surface.
- Increase permeable surfaces: Choose permeable surfaces for driveways and walkways (this minimizes flash floods and stormwater runoff) such as gravel, wood chips, punctured concrete, or porous forms of concrete.
- Watch what you flush: Learn what shouldn’t go down the drain and take the “I don’t flush” pledge at idontflush.ca
Links and Resources
• Health Canada extreme heat information: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/climate-change-health/communicating-health-risks-extreme-heat-events-toolkit-public-health-emergency-management-officials-health-canada-2011.html#a1.1
• US Center for Disease Control extreme heat information: https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/pubs/extreme-heat-final_508.pdf
• Pollution Probe Primer on Climate Change and Human Health: http://www.pollutionprobe.org/publications/primer-on-climate-change-and-human-health/
• Pollution Probe Great Lakes Fact Sheet #12: Wastewater Management: http://www.pollutionprobe.org/publications/great-lakes-fact-sheet-12-wastewater-management/
• I don’t flush campaign: http://idontflush.ca