There Is Smoke In The Air: Be Cautious

Forest fires can significantly impact air quality, posing potential health risks to communities across Canada. As these fires continue to blanket large areas with smoke, staying informed about the air quality in your local area becomes crucial. Fortunately, Environment Canada provides a valuable tool—the Air Quality Health Index—to help individuals monitor air pollution levels and make informed decisions regarding their outdoor activities. This article will explore how to find your local air quality reading, understand the risk ratings, and take necessary precautions, especially during heightened air pollution.


Finding Your Local Air Quality Reading:

To access the air quality index in your community, visit Environment Canada's website and navigate to their air quality index page. You can find air quality ratings for communities across your province or territory there. It is important to note that risk designations can change regularly, so it is recommended to check the air quality forecast frequently for the most up-to-date information.

Environment Canada, in collaboration with Health Canada, provides specific recommendations based on the risk ratings for people at higher risk of health problems when exposed to poor air quality and the general population. Here's a breakdown of how to interpret the guidance:

  • Low Risk (1-3): When the air quality is rated as "low risk," everyone can safely engage in outdoor activities.
  • Moderate Risk (4-5): During "moderate risk" periods, the general population can typically continue their usual outdoor activities unless they experience coughing or throat irritation symptoms. However, individuals at risk, including those with respiratory issues (such as asthma, COPD, or pneumonia), heart disease, infants, young children, pregnant people, and the elderly, should consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors.
  • High Risk (7-10): When air quality is rated as "high risk," individuals at risk should reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors. Children and seniors are advised to take it easy, while the general population should also consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities if they experience coughing or throat irritation.
  • Very High Risk (>10): During "very high risk" periods, everyone should reduce or reschedule strenuous activities regardless of the risk level. Individuals at risk should avoid outdoor activities to minimize their exposure to poor air quality.

The Health Effects of Poor Air Quality include:

Respiratory Issues: Exposure to pollutants in the air can cause or exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and respiratory infections. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone harm the respiratory system.

Cardiovascular Problems: Poor air quality can have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health. Fine particulate matter and certain gases, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), can enter the bloodstream and lead to the development or worsening of cardiovascular conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes.

Allergies and Irritation: Airborne pollutants can trigger allergic reactions and cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. Symptoms may include sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, sore throat, and congestion.

Whenever possible, minimize outdoor exposure. When air quality is poor, limit your time outside, especially for children, older people and those with preexisting respiratory conditions.

If spending any time outside, ensure you have a properly fitting N95 mask. Regular medical masks do not keep the small particulates out; they can still enter your lungs and bloodstream.