We all have a role to play in keeping our airshed clean.

Burning responsibly, driving less and walking and biking more are simple steps we can all take to care for ourselves and the air we all share.

Clean air, like pure water, is essential to life. Considered a basic human right, each and every day most people on the planet take approximately 14,000 breaths without ever thinking about it. Oxygen in the air is so vital that breathing, like the heart beating, happens unconsciously. It is crucial to the functioning of every cell in the body.

Indeed, the air we breathe is responsible for all life on our living planet. With a few micro exceptions, to breathe is literally to be, or not to be. As the acronym “A” for Airway clearly teaches in the ABCs of emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): when assisting one whose been found unconscious, the first thing to assess is always the breath.

While the act of breathing is clearly important, the quality of the air we breathe is all too often overlooked. Associated with numerous human health effects, including increased rates of heart, stroke and lung disease, poor air quality also impacts the health of animals and ecosystems. Linked to over three million premature deaths a year worldwide, children, the elderly and those with compromised immunity or underlying heart and lung conditions are most susceptible. All people, however, have the potential to develop health symptoms associated with air pollution, as small contaminants in the air have the power to irritate, inflame and even destroy healthy lung tissue.

It is estimated that 92 per cent of the global population lives in “airsheds” (geographical regions within which air quality can be monitored and managed) where air pollution levels often exceed the World Health Organization guidelines for safety. Considered a serious risk to public health, many contaminants are odourless and invisible, with health impacts that are not always immediately apparent.

We all have a role to play in keeping our airshed clean. Supporting air awareness in our community, means focusing on solutions, as we wade through the layers of local air pollution. In Williams Lake we are fortunate to have relatively good air quality most of the time. Local stations monitor ambient air for Particulate Matter (PM) 10 (bigger particulate like road dust) and 2.5 (particulate that can penetrate the deepest part of our lungs). PM 2.5, caused by forest fires, industrial activities, vehicle emissions and wood stoves, are currently the contaminants of greatest concern in our region. Burning responsibly, driving less and walking/biking more are simple steps we can all take to care for ourselves and the air we all share. We all need it, we all breathe it – let’s take care of our air.

For more information about our local airshed and what you can do, visit our website at www.breatheasywilliamslake.org.

Jacinta D’Andrea is an air aware educator for the Williams Lake Air Quality Roundtable.