Spare the Air Actions

In southern Ontario, particularly in and around the urban areas, periods of smog occuring most often during the summer can cause air quality to fall well below acceptable standards.

Smog is a combination of airborne pollutants that affect our health and our natural environment. Most harmful are ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter that can enter our lungs. These contaminants come from vehicles and other gasoline or diesel-powered machinery, factories, chemical sprays, oil-based paints, airborne dust and other sources.

In some people, even mild exposure can cause eye, nose and throat irritations, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Smog can lower resistance to infection and cause people with heart and lung conditions to get even sicker. In some cases, it can contribute to premature death.

The Ministry of the Environment has developed a special program to notify Ontario residents when poor air quality is expected. If forecasts indicate that the Air Quality Index (AQI) may reach a reading of 50 or greater, over a wide geographic area, the ministry will declare either a 'smog watch' or a 'smog advisory'. A smog watch is issued when there is a 50 per cent chance that poor air quality will occur within the next three days. A smog advisory is issued when there is a high probability that poor air quality will occur within the next 24 hours or if smog conditions occur without warning.

The Ontario government is committed to protecting and improving our province's air quality. Programs such as Drive Clean and the Ontario Anti-Smog Action Plan will significantly reduce smog levels over the next few years. But we can all help reduce smog and make the air we breathe safer by taking special actions, especially on smog alert days.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself, your family and the environment:

  1. Reduce car use - all year round
    Walk, cycle or take public transit. Emissions from cars, trucks and buses contribute greatly to Ontario's smog problem. Leave your car at home, if possible, or limit car trips by doing all your errands at once. Hold a teleconference instead of travelling to meetings. Avoid being outside around high traffic areas during peak rush hour times to minimize your exposure to smog.

  2. Drive Clean
    If you must drive, try carpooling. And keep your car well tuned. A well maintained car runs better and pollutes less. Shut the engine off, even for short stops - one minute of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine. Drive at moderate speeds and check your tires regularly. Refuel your car after sundown when air pollution levels are lower and gasoline vapours won't add to the problem.

  3. Turn off the lights
    Generating electricity contributes to smog, so remember to turn off the lights whenever you don't need them.

  4. Set Your Air Conditioning Temperature a Few Degrees Higher
    Air conditioning uses up energy, some of which is supplied by oil and coal-fired generators which emit pollutants that contribute to smog. Increasing the temperature in your home or place of work by a few degrees is a small price to pay to reduce hydro usage and help improve air quality.

  5. Limit use of small engine tools
    You'd hardly think that mowing the lawn contributes to smog, but it does. Small gasoline engines in mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers emit high levels of pollutants that cause smog. On smog alert days put off mowing the lawn to another day. Use electric-powered or, even better, manual tools which don't produce any pollution.

  6. Use air-friendly products
    Avoid using aerosol sprays and cleaners, oil-based paints and other chemical products that contribute to poor air quality indoors and outdoors. Use less-toxic alternatives: a small cup filled with vinegar and left on a counter top works as well as an aerosol air freshener; a mixture of water and soap flakes works as well as any pest spray to reduce an ant colony. Use latex and water-based paints.

  7. Delay exercising
    Strenuous outdoor exercise, on smog alert days, can cause breathing difficulties and eye and throat irritations even in healthy people. On smog alert days, if strenuous outdoor activities or exercise are unavoidable, drink plenty of fluids, take breaks, and monitor your health and the health of your children.

  8. Stay indoors
    Sensitive people may experience eye, nose and throat irritations, chest discomfort, laboured breathing and possible lung damage. If possible, stay indoors in a cool, air-conditioned environment.

  9. Don't light up on smog alert days
    Whether it's lighting up your fire place or even a cigarette, the smoke will only add more pollutants to the air and further deteriorate air quality in and around your home. Take a break - don't smoke, and enjoy light meals that require little or no cooking.

  10. Educate your children
    When a smog alert has been called, encourage your children to reduce their exposure by avoiding strenuous outdoor activities. Exercise is important for your children, but try to minimize their exertion when smog levels are high. It may be advisable to reschedule outdoor sporting events. Talk to your kids about what they can do to help improve air quality.

  11. During the colder months
    Even in the middle of winter, the presence of fine particulate matter in the air can cause smog. To avoid winter smog, reduce car use, turn off your vehicle when parked and reduce electricity consumption. Further, limit the amount of wood you burn in your fireplace or wood stove. When burning wood, use only the dry, seasoned variety. If possible, use natural gas instead of wood.

For further information contact:

Public Information Centre
Ministry of the Environment
135 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, Ontario M4V 1P5
Telephone: (416) 325-4000 or toll free at 1-800-565-4923
Internet: Ministry of the Environment web site (