Esri Canada’s Public Health team built a real-time, interactive, and public-facing air quality visualization tool: the Air Quality Aware App. Built using ArcGIS Experience Builder, the app leverages Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to visualize air quality observations for Canadian cities.
Air quality: an urgent Canadian public health challenge
Seasonal wildfires pose major challenges for Canadians, including significant impacts to air quality. Yet with warming climate and drier conditions, the intensity of wildfire smoke is increasing, posing increasing health risks for more Canadians year over year. As reported by Environment Canada, wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles and water vapour that contains pollutants (e.g. sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, fine particular matter (PM2.5), etc.). Because strong wind and weather patterns can carry smoke thousands of kilometers across the country, more populations across Canada are at risk of poor air quality despite living at large distances from the fire zone.
The consequences of degraded air quality are substantial. Many Canadians are at heightened risk of health problems when exposed to air pollution: seniors, pregnant people, children, people who work outdoors, and people with existing illness or chronic health conditions (e.g. cancer, diabetes, asthma, and other lung or heart conditions), and need to exercise additional caution when air quality is poor. Culturally, it is advised that outdoor sporting events or community gatherings are cancelled and/or postponed during these times.
Given this urgent public health issue, many Canadian provinces and municipalities are challenged with monitoring air quality, especially in cities. To communicate risks to the public in a timely manner, environmental health practitioners and public health teams need reliable, data-driven tools that support daily situational awareness and can readily simplify and summarize complex estimates of fine particulate matter concentrations to non-experts.
Esri Canada’s Air Quality Aware App
Esri Canada’s Public Health team built a real-time, interactive, and public-facing air quality visualization tool: the Air Quality Aware App. Built using ArcGIS Experience Builder, the app leverages Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to visualize air quality observations for Canadian cities. Python programming and ArcGIS API for Python were used to bring in Environment Canada’s reported AQHI in real-time, so the map is always up-to-date. With public health decision makers in mind, we’ve included widgets that automatically summarize the number of locations with higher-than-average AQHI, and a graph that ranks cities experiencing the poorest air quality at any given time.
In this screenshot of the Air Quality Aware App taken on May 16, 2023, Fort St. John, BC, is reported as one of the highest risk metrics, corresponding to one of the top five towns experiencing poor air quality as of 8:00AM PT. Users can zoom in and out to interact with the points for other Canadian cities to get a real-time report on Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index.
ArcGIS brings Environmental Health teams together
In addition to ArcGIS Experience Builder, Environmental Health teams can easily use ArcGIS applications to simplify and enhance a wide spectrum of environmental monitoring programs. For example, the Air Quality Aware App acts a trustworthy common operating picture for air quality across Canada. The map interface ensures non-experts can understand relative risks among Canadian cities in real-time. Environmental Health teams can lean on this tool to collaborate on cohesive and timely strategies for when and where to send public service announcements to the public. This app can potentially facilitate collaboration between public health departments with weather services or local news networks. Indeed, because the app is open to the public, individuals more at risk of health impacts caused by smoke can monitor air quality themselves and mitigate their own risks. Environmental Health practitioners can apply this geographic approach to enhance situational awareness for everything from wastewater surveillance to vector-borne disease monitoring, and to public pool and beach monitoring.
To learn more about ArcGIS solutions for Environmental Health, email firstname.lastname@example.org.