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Border Air Quality Study: Does Where You Live Affect Your Health?


Speaker Info:

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


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.


Speaker Bio:

Michael Brauer joined the UBC faculty in 1991 in the Department of Medicine. He was an inaugural member of the Occupational Hygiene Program and served as Director of the School of Environmental Health from 2003-2008 and as as the Occupational and Environmental Health theme co-lead in SPPH from 2011-2014. He is currently Director of the Bridge Program, a strategic training fellowship program linking public health, engineering and policy. He also holds associate appointments in the Division of Respiratory Medicine and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC.

Dr. Brauer received bachelor’s degrees in Biochemistry and Environmental Sciences from the University of California-Berkeley (1986) and a doctorate in Environmental Health from Harvard University (1990). He was a visiting scientist at the Institute of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Arhus University in Denmark (1991), at the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University in The Netherlands (2000) and at the East-West Center in Hawaii, USA (2008). His research focuses on the assessment of exposure and health impacts of air pollution, with specific interest in air pollution and global health, transportation-related and biomass air pollution. He has participated in monitoring and epidemiological studies throughout the world and served on advisory committees to the World Health Organization, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the US National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, the International Joint Commission and governments in North America and Asia. He is an Associate Editor of Environmental Health Perspectives and a member of the Core Analytic Team for the Global Burden of Disease.

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