US wildfire smoke results in Metro Vancouver air quality advisory

Sep 8 2020, 1:24 pm

Wildfire smoke from Washington State that has made its way into BC has now resulted in an air quality advisory for Metro Vancouver.

In a statement, officials said the advisory is being issued due to “high concentrations of fine particulate matter that are expected to persist through at least tonight.”

Smoke from wildfires burning in Washington, Oregon and California “moved over our region this morning and is now impacting ground-level fine particulate matter concentrations,” the statement said.

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, refers to airborne solid or liquid droplets with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (µm) or less, which “can easily penetrate indoors because of its small size.”

The advisory follows an air quality alert that was also issued today, by BC’s Ministry Of Environment.

In that statement, the ministry said smoke concentrations may vary widely across the region as winds and temperatures change, and as wildfire behaviour changes.

“Long-range transport of wildfire smoke from the United States has impacted air quality levels throughout much of southern BC including on Vancouver Island, Coastal mainland, the Okanagan, as well as the Kootenays and boundary,” the ministry said.

It noted that the affected regions are likely to be impacted by the wildfire smoke “over the next 24 to 48 hours.”

However, the ministry also states that “during a wildfire, smoke conditions can change quickly over short distances and can vary considerably hour-by-hour.”

Officials also advise that smoky conditions can have particularly adverse effects on people with pre-existing health conditions, people with respiratory infections such as COVID-19, older adults, pregnant women and infants, children, and sensitive individuals who are more likely to experience health effects from smoke exposure.

As such, they encourage these and all individuals to take certain precautions in smoky conditions for the sake of their health and safety.

These precautions include the following:

  • Stop or reduce your activity level if breathing becomes uncomfortable or you feel
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you have asthma or other chronic illnesses, carry any rescue (fast-acting) medications with you at all times and activate your personal care plan that has been
    designed with your family physician.
  • Make sure that children and others who cannot care for themselves follow the
    same advice.

Monitor your symptoms

  • People respond differently to smoke. Mild irritation and discomfort are common,
    and usually disappear when the smoke clears.
  • Exposure to wildfire smoke and the virus that causes COVID-19 can both result
    in respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing.
    Use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to help determine whether you need
    further assessment or testing for COVID-19.
  • If you are unsure whether you need medical care, call HealthLink BC at 811.
  • If you are experiencing difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, or a severe
    cough, contact your health care provider, walk-in clinic, or emergency department.
    If you are having a medical emergency, call 911.

Reduce smoke exposure

  • Smoke levels may be lower indoors but will still be elevated, so stay aware of your
    symptoms even when you are indoors.
  • Running a commercially available HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter can
    improve indoor air quality in the room where the device is located.
  • If you have a forced air heating/cooling system in your home, it may help to change
    the filter and set the fan to run continuously.
  • Reduce indoor air pollution sources such as smoking, burning incense, and frying
  • If travelling in a car with air conditioning, keep the windows up and the ventilation
    set to recirculate.
  • If you are very sensitive to smoke, consider moving to another location with cleaner
    air, but be aware that conditions can change rapidly.
  • Maintaining good overall health is a good way to prevent health effects resulting
    from short-term exposure to air pollution.

The alert comes on the same day that smoke from the wildfires became highly visible on southern Vancouver Island as well as in in the Lower Mainland and Interior. It also comes on the same day that Environment Canada issued a special weather statement for Metro Vancouver this week, warning residents to prepare for unseasonably warm temperatures.

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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