FORT ST. JOHN -- Thanks to wildfires, air quality in Canada is now worse than in the U.S., according to a new report.

Published Tuesday, the 6th Annual World Air Quality Report found that air quality in Canada in 2023 was worse than in the U.S. for the first time in the report's history.

"In 2023, air quality in Northern America was significantly influenced by extensive Canadian wildfires that raged from May to October, burning an area roughly half the size of Germany," the report explained. "Consequently, 2023 marked the first instance in this report’s history where Canada surpassed the United States in regional pollution rankings."

According to the report, the 15 most polluted regional cities in Canada and the U.S. include 2 in British Columbia. They are:

  • Fort McMurray, Alta.;
  •  Peace River, Alta.;
  •  Yellowknife;
  •  Fort St. John, B.C.;
  •  Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.;
  •  Spruce Grove, Alta.;
  •  Edmonton;
  •  St. Albert, Alta.;
  •  Sherwood Park, Alta.;
  •  Saskatoon;
  •  Canmore, Alta.;
  •  Cold Lake, Alta.;
  •  Leduc, Alta.;
  •  Beloit, Wis.; and
  •  Prince George, B.C.


Overall, Canada ranked 93 out of 134 countries studied in the report while the top three spots were held by Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. All but one of the 100 cities with the world's worst air pollution were in Asia, with 83 of them in India.

The study specifically looked at fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which are tiny but dangerous air particles that can include emissions fromgasoline, oil, diesel fuel and burning wood. When inhaled, PM2.5 can travel deep into the lungs and has been linked to asthma, cancer, lung disease and other respiratory illnesses.

"Climate change, primarily driven by greenhouse gas emissions, plays a pivotal role in influencing concentrations of PM2.5 air pollutants, and fossil fuel emissions are simultaneously responsible for the majority of PM2.5 related deaths," the report said.

In 2023, 41 per cent of Canadian cities recorded PM2.5 levels that were double WHO air quality guidelines. Only 23 Canadian cities met those annual guidelines in 2023, down from 61 in 2022.

About four per cent of Canada's forests were burned in the record-breaking 2023 wildfire season, which saw more people evacuated and more area scorched than in any previously-recorded season. Only one Canadian city – Prince Rupert, B.C. – made the list of the 15 least polluted cities in Canada and the U.S.

The World Air Quality Report is published by IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company.

“We see that in every part of our lives that air pollution has an impact,” IQAir Global CEO Frank Hammes told CBB. “And it typically, in some of the most polluted countries, is likely shaving off anywhere between three to six years of people’s lives. And then before that will lead to many years of suffering that are entirely preventable if there’s better air quality.”

With files from Daniel Otis and  CNN