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Canadian system for outdoor air monitoring

Aerobiology Research was first formed in 1994 to collect outdoor air samples and report on pollen and fungal spore levels. We started with 12 sites across Canada and now have 30 where samples are gathered and our laboratory analysis is done. The database we have collected is also stored in our laboratory in Ottawa for all sites. This data is used to provide information to the public through media and pharmaceutical companies for all of our sites. To check on what sites we have I am including our web site URL-


The need for this information is evident with the number of people who suffer from seasonal allergies.  A sophisticated system as the one we have in Canada does not exist anywhere else. But this would not happen if we did not depend on lots of people in the field to assist us at each site to use our equipment and collect the samples daily. If it wasn’t for this system across Canada this would not be possible. The samples are changed every morning by each of our sites and sent to our laboratory for analysis during the allergy season. They all have one of our samplers at their location.


Slide showing the season start of birch in OttawaOur goal has always been to provide better and more accurate information to pharmaceutical companies for clinical trials, to allergists and also to the public. This could only be accomplished through a great deal of research using our data and also other environmental factors such as weather. The need for this was shown as soon as we realized how complex the study of pollen and fungal spore levels was. The first problem was to figure out when the season started for each different pollen type and for each of our locations. This graph shows the difference in the season start dates for birch in Ottawa.


slide showing what we predict in reportsWhen dealing with generalities for reports often the result is misleading. High pollen counts mean trouble for pollen sufferers. Not really nobody is allergic to trees in general, only to specific trees. There are many species of trees and shrubs in any given area. Insect and bird pollinated varieties with their showy flowers, like lilacs and flowers, don’t get airborne so they are not important allergens. When we only include the airborne pollinators we are dealing with few species. Hence a high count can result in no or few allergenic reactions if the species are benign or the person does not have an allergy to anything that is in the air on any one day. It is therefore important to indicate in a high count what constitutes that count. A low or moderate count can cause reactions if the count includes highly allergenic species such as oak, elm or ragweed.

We chose to concentrate on individual genera known to cause reactions. Because of low cross reactivity, trees have to be handled differently from say ragweed. Among the grasses there is some cross reactivity but many species are not important in causing allergic reactions.  People with an allergy to one allergen can also have allergies to other pollen, mold spores or dust etc. This is why allergies are so individual and have to be treated in that manner.

The weather is the greatest indication we have of what could potentially be ahead in any given season. We put together our database, weather and our knowledge from our research to provide information that will be useful and based on factual data.

Have a safe winter and we look forward to our next blog when the allergy season starts in British Columbia at the beginning of February.

Written by Frances Coates from Aerobiology. The research laboratories collect data measuring outdoor allergen levels from 30 sites over Canada, and work with allergists all over North America. Visit their site for more in-depth information about outdoor allergens.