Border Air Quality Study: Does where you live affect your health?

This webinar is part of the Coast to Coast Webinar Series (2015)


Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death in Canada. In the same way that stopping smoking reduces your risk of getting lung cancer, moving away from traffic pollution lowers your risk of getting cardiovascular disease.

The Border Air Quality Study is a cluster of research projects that was designed to support the development of an international strategy for the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound airshed. The University of British Columbia’s efforts were focused on establishing cohorts to examine the impact of air pollution on birth outcomes, the development of childhood respiratory disease and adult cardiovascular health using multiple administrative health databases linked to geospatial environmental exposure information developed by the research team. Over 40 researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Washington and the University of Victoria were involved in the project which was funded by Health Canada.

Data sources linked

  • Medical Services Plan (BC Ministry of Health)
  • Hospital Separations (BC Ministry of Health)
  • Perinatal Services BC
  • Vital Statistics Births and Deaths (BC Ministry of Health)
  • Census data
  • Ministry of Environment data
  • Researcher-collected environmental exposure data
  • Data from Metro Vancouver municipalities

Policy implications

These research projects were developed in response to Health Canada’s request for further progress in research to determine sources of greatest concern in each airshed and the development of a common basis of understanding between Canada and the United States regarding transboundary air quality conditions, potential future trends, and associated impacts on human health.The studies aimed to address health and environmental concerns in each airshed by assessing exposures related to specific categories of emissions sources, at both the community and individual level.

Key findings

Overall air quality in the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound region is good compared to other major metropolitan areas, but there are still concerns. Birth outcomes, childhood respiratory disease and adult cardiovascular disease are all affected by air pollution, especially that caused by traffic. The air pollution effects are relatively small compared with well-known risk factors, but because the population exposed to traffic is large the population health implications are significant.

Wood smoke is also an important source of air pollution even in urban centres such as Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle – there may be a need to consider additional policy mechanisms to help reduce the health burden of wood smoke. Although levels of wood smoke pollution are often much higher in rural areas, urban wood smoke may have a bigger population-level health impact, because the number of people exposed is much greater.

The tools developed in the Border Air Quality Study enable air quality managers to identify pollution ‘hotspots’, and to identify where higher levels of pollution coincide with at-risk populations. This is an important improvement on previous approaches to monitor and manage air quality

Land-use decisions by local governments, school boards and others could play a significant role in reducing the exposure of at-risk groups (such as children and the elderly) to air pollution.


Presenter: Dr Michael Brauer, Faculty of Medicine, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

Watch recorded video presentation below.



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