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Health Matters: Air pollution and how it impacts our lung health in Canada

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This week on Health Matters, though Canada has relatively low air pollution, it still affects our lung health. Dr. Benjamin Smith discusses a new study from the RI-MUHC.

(Time on Podcast: 0:53) We all know that air pollution has an impact on our lung health. This study is unique as it assessed the health effects of air pollution in Canada. The lung is the first line of defense against air pollutants. Surprisingly, even with the relative “low” levels of air pollution in Canada (compared to other parts of the world), the study wanted to know if there was still impact on the health of Canadians. After looking at adults in Canada across the country, the study estimated the air pollution levels around their homes and also measured their lung function . The study found that overall, air pollution levels are low in Canada. However, even in this lower range, there were association with higher levels of air pollutants and worse lung health. This means that even in this relatively “clean” environment, there are still harmful effects. This raises the question as to whether we have to revisit what “safe” thresholds of air pollution are in Canada. Essentially, air pollution does affect lung function even a low air pollution levels. With this information, we hope this study will help inform policy decision makers to identify what the target air quality thresholds we are striving for. This study also found that people were not equally susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution. Some Canadians were more susceptible while others were “resilient” to the harmful effects of air pollution. By using a CT scan to image the structure of the lung, the researchers were able to capture the structure of the airway tree. This study also showed that there is much variability in the structure of our airway trees, which can impact why some people are more or less susceptible to the effects of air pollution. More research is needed to understand why some people develop more resilient lungs.

Listen to the Podcast

Helping patients recover from cancer treatments faster. The MUHC Foundation’s Health Matters. June 5, 2022.

Read more about the study:

New study shows associations between air pollution and respiratory health in Canada
RI-MUHC researchers demonstrate that exposure to relatively low levels of air pollution in Canada is associated with lower lung function and COPD. RI-MUHC News. May 26, 2022.