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Environment

This section contains information on outdoor environmental conditions that can impact student health and safety and provides additional resources to assist you with providing safe and enjoyable activities for students.

Outdoor Activities During Extreme Weather

It is important to consider the weather when planning outdoor activities. When Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issues extreme weather alerts, we provide heat and cold warnings to the public. During these notifications, we communicate health risks associated with exposure to hot and cold temperatures, so children can be protected against extreme temperatures. Below is some information for your consideration when making decisions about outdoor breaks, instructional time and/or field trips during extreme weather.

ECCC defines extreme heat events for our region as an increase in daytime temperature to 31°C or warmer and a nighttime temperature of 20°C or warmer for two consecutive days. Extreme heat events can put people’s health at risk. When exposed to extreme heat, the body’s temperature control system can become overwhelmed and the body’s core temperature increases. Sweating helps cool the body, however, when the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly. This will prevent the body from releasing heat quickly and high core temperatures can damage the brain or other vital organs. Exposure to extreme heat can result in heat related illnesses such as heat rash, cramps, exhaustion, stroke and fainting.
Everyone is susceptible to the effects of extreme heat, but children are especially vulnerable to its effects. Children have a high metabolic rate and produce more heat during physical activity. Their capacity to sweat is not as great compared to adults, so it is more difficult for them to release heat from their bodies. Also, the effects of dehydration are greater in children and they rely on others to provide adequate fluids for hydration. Children with diabetes, anorexia, obesity, developmental delays, cystic fibrosis, heart disease and diarrhea are at even greater risk of acquiring a heat related illness and need frequent monitoring.
To help prevent negative health impacts from extreme heat events, ensure children:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (even more than their thirst indicates)
  • Avoid caffeine or beverages with large amounts of sugar
  • Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing
  • Keep physical activity to a minimum
  • Stay cool indoors and in an air conditioned place if possible
  • Are in classrooms with the blinds/curtains drawn to prevent radiant heat from entering the room and fans to increase evaporation (when conditions are extreme, fans will not prevent heat related illness)
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sun screen when outdoors
  •  Seek medical care if they have symptoms of heat related illness.

Extreme cold occurs when temperatures drop significantly below normal for the region. ECCC issues extreme cold warnings when the temperature or wind chill falls to minus 35°C for at least two hours. When winter weather drops to very low temperatures, staying warm and safe can become a challenge. Exposure to cold temperatures can result in cold related illnesses such as frostnip, frostbite, hypothermia and winter asthma. Cold related illnesses occur when the body loses heat faster than it can maintain it. Children are at greater risk for cold related illnesses because they are not able to regulate their internal body temperatures as well as adults.
To avoid cold related illness, ensure children:

  • Stay indoors if the temperature falls below minus 25°C, or if the wind chill is minus 28°C or less with the wind chill
  • Dress warmly and cover exposed skin
  • Wear several layers of loose fitting clothing made of wool, silk or polypropylene
  • Wear winter hats, mittens and scarves
  • Stay dry, wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess sweating will also increase heat loss, so extra layers of clothing should be removed when children are too warm
  • Drink warm fluids
  • Keep moving, limit time sitting
  • Take shelter from the wind to reduce wind chill exposure
  • Are alert for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Children are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution because their immune system is less developed, they breathe in more air and faster than adults and they tend to breathe through their mouths and by-pass the natural filtering system of their nose. Poor air quality can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. It can also cause coughing, wheezing and breathing difficulties.
The Air Quality Health Index (AOH) is a scale between 1 - 10 that informs us on how the air quality may impact our health and outdoor activities. The higher the AQHI number the poorer the air quality.
Smog is the most visible form of air pollution. It is a brownish yellow hazy cloud caused when heat and sunlight react with various pollutants. It is a year round problem but most alerts and watches occur on hot days. Smog can increase children’s risk of getting sick because it reduces their respiratory system’s ability to fight infection and remove foreign particles. It can also worsen the effects of asthma and allergies for children. Smog Advisory Today – Even healthy kids are vulnerable (Ministry of Environment).

Idling cars release exhaust that is harmful to the environment and the health of students, school staff, and our local communities. Unnecessary idling of vehicles contributes to poor air quality, climate change and can be a risk to health. A vehicle’s exhaust contains particulate matter, VOCs, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. These are all considered pollutants and affect the air we breathe. Children are susceptible to the negative effects of idling cars because their lungs are still developing and they breathe in air at a faster rate than adults. The pollutants created from unnecessary idling can lead to:

  • Lung infections and irritation, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema
  • Some forms of heart disease
  • Increased risk of cancers, and
  • Reduced ability of the blood to carry oxygen in the body.

Reducing unnecessary idling of cars will reduce pollutants, improve air quality and our health. Some ways you can reduce or eliminate idling and its effects include:

  • During drop off and pick up times, close windows that may be near these areas.
  • Create an idle control program or policy. This will help educate parents, caregivers and staff about the importance of reducing idling and need to change behaviours.
  • Encourage parents, caregivers, school visitors and staff to turn off their vehicle during pick up and drop off times.
  • Support active school travel (such as walking or cycling) as it helps to protect student safety by decreasing vehicle traffic, while promoting the many benefits of healthy active living.

A number of municipalities within Simcoe-Muskoka have idling by-laws in place. Please check with your local municipality to see if they have an idling by-law.

  • Air Quality Ontario – The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has a network of 40 ambient (outside) air monitoring stations across the province that collect real-time air pollution data. This information is communicated to the public through Ontario's Air Quality Index (AQI) and as hourly concentrations of each pollutant. The AQI and data collected from these 40 locations are posted on this website every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Health Canada offers information on environmental factors that affect human health: air, noise, soil and water pollution, climate change, environmental contaminants, occupational health and safety, pest control and radiation.
  • The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment is an excellent source of information for those who work with parents of young children. Included is a video, brochure and fact sheets on the “Top 5 simple, low-cost changes parents can make to reduce exposures to toxic substances around their homes

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