AQHI & the Oil Sands
Monitoring Air Quality in the Oil Sands Region
By Cristen Adams, AEMERA

Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a measure that provides information about the relative health risks associated with local air quality. The system rates air quality on a scale from 1 to 10, as follows:

AQHI scale_new_no_heading_crisp

The higher the AQHI number, the greater the health risk. Typically ratings will not exceed 10, unless the amount of air contamination is extremely high. An example of an instance in which air quality might receive this rating would be during a forest fire smoke event, when smoke is transported into communities from fires burning within the province, or from other provinces, territories, or the United States.

Each individual reacts differently to air pollution. If you are part of the at risk population – typically those with respiratory complications, young children or the elderly – use the AQHI to assess the immediate risk air pollution poses to your health and take steps to lessen that risk, such as staying indoors and closing your windows. Even if you are relatively healthy, fit and active, you can consult the AQHI to decide when and how much activity to undertake outdoors.

AQHI Forecasts

The AQHI also forecasts health risks from air quality for tonight and tomorrow. Check the AQHI in your community before heading off to work or play, and use the forecasts to plan your activities, whether over the next hour or the next day.

AQHI Health Messages

Each level of health risk is associated with a pair of health messages for at-risk and general populations. It suggests steps we can take to reduce our pollution exposure.

AQHI Chart
The AQHI reflects the combined effect of various pollutants on overall air quality and health. The national AQHI is calculated based on the cumulative contribution of ground level ozone, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide. In Alberta, the AQHI risk category can increase if individual pollutants exceed Alberta’s Ambient Air Quality Objectives. These pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide. Special instructions are also available for visibility (based on levels of particulate matter) and for odour (based on levels of hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, and total reduced sulphur).

It’s important to note that the three pollutants measured to calculate the AQHI do not include the reduced sulphur compounds and volatile organic compounds that contribute to odour events experienced in several communities within the Oil Sands Monitoring Region.

The charts below show the percentage of time that the AQHI reported Low Risk, Moderate Risk, High Risk, and Very High Risk at monitoring stations in the Oil Sands Region. These results are based on hourly AQHI data collected between November 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015. At all stations in the Oil Sands Region, air quality was in the Low Risk category more than 95% of the time. Air quality did occasionally enter the High Risk and Very High Risk categories. Occurring less than 2% of the time at all stations, this was directly related to wildfire smoke particulate matter found in the region.

Real-time AQHI information is available through the following sources:

  • Phone: 1-877-247-7333
  • Online:
  • Alberta AQHI App for Android, Blackberry, iPad, and iPhone


A new AQHI app will be released soon. This technology will provide Canada-wide AQHI information, with a map interface, GPS functionality, and user-defined push notifications.


Relative health risk, as reported by the AQHI, for November 1, 2014, to October 31, 2015 at community air monitoring stations in the Alberta Oil Sands Region.

Alberta Environmental Monitoring
Evaluation and Reporting Agency

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