Last reviewed/revised: July 19, 2023
Air Quality – Indoor
Canadians spend, on average, about 90% of our time indoors, so indoor air quality is very important.
We think of our homes as safe and healthy places to live and raise our families, but humid or damp conditions in the home promote the growth of bacteria, mould and dust mites. These organisms contribute to poor indoor air quality and can cause health problems.
Other indoor problems can be caused by carbon monoxide (CO) or high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2).
What is the concern with Radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless, inert radioactive gas. It occurs naturally in soil and rocks as uranium decays. Radon has a half-life of 3.82 days, and it decays into a series of radon decay products that can be inhaled.
The movement of radon gas into basements and ground level living areas can result in a much higher level of radiation exposure indoors than would occur outdoors. Levels in the home are highest in the winter when windows and doors are kept closed.
Health Canada has set the guidelines for the acceptable level of radon in indoor air at 200 Bq/m3.
Radon and Cancer
Breathing in air containing high levels of radon can lead to lung cancer. Cancers caused by radio activity are started by chance and not everyone exposed will develop lung cancer. The time between and the onset of the disease is usually many years.
In addition, there is a synergistic effect b/w cigarette smoking and radon gas in the development of lung cancer. From a “public health perspective”, radon is second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer.
· dirt floors
· cracks in concrete walls and floors
· sumps and basement drains
· under the furnace base
Well water can contain dissolved radon, which is released into the air in a home when the water is agitated by activities such as showering, washing clothes or cooking.
Radon is nine times heavier than air, so it tends to remain close to the ground. Radon levels are generally highest in basements and ground floor rooms in contact with soil.
How can Radon levels in homes be reduced?
Methods to reduce the level of radon in your home vary in their complexity, effectiveness and cost.
The effectiveness of any one radon reduction method will depend upon the unique characteristics of your home, the evel of radon, the routes of the radon entry and how thoroughly the job is done.
There are some steps many homeowers can take immediately, often at little cost.
- Seal cracks in basement floors and walls, and block air flow through sump pits and floor drainage holes
- Increase ventilation in the house
- Vent the space beneath the concrete floor to remove radon gas.
Radon concentrations vary from house to house and cannot be predicted. Similar houses within a single neighbourhood can have indoor radon levels that vary significantly. The only reliable method of determining the indoor radon concentration is to have it measured.
Methods for measuring radon in the home:
Most radon detectors are exposed to the air in the house for a specified period of time and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. The most common types can be purchased and tested for approximately $100.00.
Contact the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada in Toronto, Ontario to order a home radon test kit.
Public Inquires about Radon can be directed to:
The Ontario Lung Association:
Lung Health Information Line at 1-888-344-LUNG (5864)
Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage our health, but fewer realize that indoor air pollution can be as, or even more harmful.
Because Canadians typically spend close to 90 percent of their time indoors, there is considerable public health concern about the health effects of poor indoor air quality.
What is it?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless and odourless gas. Because you can’t see, taste or smell it, it can affect you or your family before you even know it’s here. Even at low levels of exposure, carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems. CO is harmful because it will rapidly accumulate in the blood, depleting the ability of blood to carry oxygen.
Possible sources of carbon monoxide in the home are:
- gas and oil furnaces and appliances that are not properly maintained or vented to the outside of the building;
- car engines in attached garages; and
- tobacco smoke.
What you can do
- Ensure all gas and oil-burning cooking and heating appliances are properly maintained
- and inspected annually by a qualified technician.
- If you have a garage attached to your house, never use a remote starter when your car is inside it. Never start your car when the door between your garage and your home is open.
- Purchase a carbon monoxide detector. CO detectors are designed to sound an alarm before a healthy adult would feel any symptoms. Infants, the elderly and those with respiratory and heart conditions are at particular risk and may react to even low levels of CO poisoning.
Use these resources to learn more about the impact of wildfire smoke on air quality and your health:
- Peterborough: Current Air Quality Health Index
- Learn about wildfire smoke events, the effects of wildfire smoke on your health, and how to protect yourself (Health Canada Resource)
- Forest Fire Smoke and Your Health (Public Health Ontario)
- Protecting Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
- Evidence on the Use of Indoor Air Filtration as an Intervention for Wildfire Smoke Pollutant Exposure (CDC)
- Create a clean room to protect indoor air quality during a wildfire (United States Environmental Protection Agency)
- Planning framework for protecting commercial building occupants from smoke during wildfire events (ASHRAE)
Click here for more information on use of portable air cleaners for COVID-19 transmission.
Click here for more information on Carbon Dioxide and indoor air quality.
Air Quality – Outdoor
Poor air quality and smog are becoming a serious problem in our area – summer and winter – with Peterborough City and County often registering some of the worst air quality readings in Ontario.
Click here to find out Peterborough’s current Air Quality Health Index rating.
The Clean Air Consumer Guide is an informative resource on shopping for products that protect our air. A hard copy of this guide is also available at Peterborough Green-Up, lower level Peterborough Square.
For practical information and factsheets on how to reduce vehicle use through walking, cycling, busing and carpooling, visit Peterborough Green-Up’s Peterborough Moves.
For general information and useful resources on idling, visit Natural Resource Canada’s Idle Free Zone or learn about anti-idling below.
Cooling off the winter "warm-up"
When the cold weather descends on our community, we crave the warmth. And by extension, this means warming up our vehicles before driving.
But poor air quality is becoming a serious problem in our area – summer and winter – with Peterborough City and County often registering some of the worst air quality readings in Ontario. Reducing vehicle warm-up times can help with this problem and save you fuel costs!
Did You Know?
- With today’s computer-controlled, fuel-injected engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of “warm-up” idling on winter days before driving away. Even at -18oC, most cars require only 15 to 30 seconds of idling.
- Idling in cold weather is hard on your engine because it isn’t working at peak operating temperature. When this happens fuel doesn’t undergo complete combustion leaving fuel residues that contaminate engine oil and make spark plugs dirty. The best way to warm a vehicle to optimal operating temperature is to actually drive it!
- When you warm-up a vehicle you need to warm more than the engine. The tires, transmission, wheel bearings and other moving parts also need to be warm for the vehicle to perform well. Most of these parts don’t begin to warm up until you actually drive! Start slowly though and don’t go for high speeds for the first 5 kilometres.
- Warming up for only 30 seconds in cold weather will save fuel because it cuts the warm-up time in half! By reducing idling time by five minutes a day over a year, drivers can save 55 litres of fuel and a lot of unnecessary emissions.
- Safety still comes first! Drivers should ensure they have clear visibility before heading out. Keep a scraper for your windows available and make sure you have a set of gloves on hand to manage those cold steering wheels!
Other actions you can take to reduce vehicle idling:
Avoid the use of drive-throughs. Turn your vehicle off if parked for more than 10 seconds. Idling for more than 10 seconds costs more fuel than turning off your engine. Component wear caused by frequent restarting is estimated at $10 per year, money that will be easily recovered many times over in fuel savings from reduced idling.
Catch a brisk walk to your favourite food stop instead. The inside line-up is often shorter than the drive-through line.
Avoid the use of remote car starters. A remote car starter will just encourage you to start the car before you’re ready to leave, which means unnecessary idling.
Use a block heater on a timer. This reduces engine wear, improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. Use an automatic timer to turn on the block heater two hours before you plan to start the vehicle.
Air pollution is a serious problem. Reducing unnecessary vehicle idling contributes to a cleaner, healthier Peterborough City and County.
What is smog?
Smog most often occurs on hot and humid days between May and September, although it can occur any time of year. Ground level ozone and fine particulate matter are the key components of smog.
Ground level ozone – formed when gases in the environment react in the presence of sunlight.
Fine particulate matter – a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets coming from many sources such as:
- factory emissions;
- windblown dust;
- vehicle exhaust; and
- oil and gas emissions from homes.
Where does smog come from?
Today’s cars release approximately 95% fewer emissions than cars 30 years ago, yet the transportation sector accounts for almost one third of Canada’s gas emissions.
Smog comes from a variety of sources including:
- gasoline and diesel vehicles, and lawn/garden equipment;
- coal-fired power plants;
- oil based paints, solvents and cleaners;
- road paving and construction; and
- pollutants from metal refineries and battery manufacturing.
Who is affected by smog?
Smog affects everyone’s health, however some people are more sensitive to the effects of air pollution than others.
Smog is especially harmful to:
- persons with heart and Lung conditions, asthma and allergies; and
- people who work or exercise outdoors.