You can hardly make out the mountains these days through the smoky haze in Chilliwack.
But it’s not just disturbing visuals at stake when there is a sustained air quality alert, like the one now in effect due to wildfire smoke.
It also means that more susceptible individuals need to take precautions, said Lisa Mu, medical health officer with Fraser Health.
An air quality advisory issued for Metro Vancouver was extended to the Fraser Valley this week due to high concentrations of fine particulate matter, after wildfire smoke wafted into the local airsheds.
“As air quality levels have been quite variable across the region, we want citizens to be mindful and alert to symptoms, and to take precautions to protect themselves if need be,” said Dr. Mu.
There are higher than normal concentrations of fine particulates, known as PM2.5, than they would expect, and the heat is compounding the situation.
“Individuals with chronic lung and heart conditions, as well as the elderly and young children, are at increased risk of health effects from particulate matter,” she said.
More PM2.5s in the air could lead to an exacerbation of those existing medical conditions, and people who are otherwise healthy could see irritation of the eyes, the throat, as well as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
“It is definitely an irritant,” Dr. Mu said.
Fine particulate matter means that the size of the irritating particles are less than 2.5 microns in diameter.
“The smaller particulates are of greater concern because they move more deeply into the lungs,” the health officer said.
Air quality advisories for most of the B.C. South Coast will continue because of high concentrations of fine particulate matter due to wildfire smoke. Smoky sky advisories were also issued for most of the Southern Interior because of forest fire smoke affecting the area.
Dr. Mu did not have any hard numbers or statistics handy on hospital emergency visits since the bad air moved in.
“But I would say anecdotally we have seen more cases of respiratory complaints than usual,” she said.
On Wednesday the air quality health index was at 4 for Chilliwack and the eastern Fraser Valley, which is a moderate risk rating, while it went down to 3 on Thursday morning. The forecast was for the AQHI to rise to 6 by the end of Thursday, and 4 for Friday.
If any symptoms are noted, affected individuals should take steps to reduce their exposure to the smoky air and if necessary seek medical attention at their doctor’s office, walk-in clinic or emergency department depending on the severity of symptoms. Or they could call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1.
Anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms, should contact their health care provider: difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. If you are experiencing symptoms, avoid strenuous outdoor activities, especially along busy traffic corridors.
Here are some tips:
• Use common sense about outdoor exercise: if breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce activity.
• Pay attention to local air quality reports at Environment Canada’s website.
• Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.
• Be aware of symptoms even indoors. Smoke levels may be lower, however levels of particulates will be increased.
• Visit a location like a shopping mall or library with cooler filtered air. Keep in mind that many air conditioning systems do not filter the air or improve indoor air quality.
• Use commercially available high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters which can improve indoor air quality near the device.
• Activate an asthma or personal care plan if you have asthma or other chronic illnesses.
• Maintain good overall health to prevent health effects resulting from short-term exposure to air pollution.
• Reduce indoor pollution sources such as smoking or burning other materials.
“We do recommend that people at risk stay indoors in an air conditioned environment.”
See local AQHI ratings at http://weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/bcaq-003_e.html