BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) wildfire smoke experts are warning British Columbians to take time now to prepare for smoky days that can be harmful to your health.
“There have been catastrophic wildfires in western North America every year from 2016 to 2020,” said Sarah Henderson, scientific director of Environmental Health Services at BCCDC. “There is no reason to believe 2021 will be any different. Let’s start getting ready for the smoke now rather than waiting until it arrives.”
As hot, dry weather returns to B.C., it is a good time to reflect that many parts of the province have experienced prolonged periods of heavy smoke in recent summers. In September 2020, B.C. and western Canada experienced some of the worst air quality ever from wildfires in the U.S.
Wildfire smoke is made up of small particles and gases
. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) carries the greatest risk to human health as it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation and irritation. Some of the other components of smoke can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
“In 2017, 2018, and 2020, we experienced consecutive days and weeks of the worst air quality that most people will ever experience in British Columbia. We know that smoke really affects how people feel when it’s happening,” said Henderson. “There is growing evidence that exposure to seasonal wildfire smoke may have longer-lasting impacts on our health.”
While the timing of wildfire smoke events is mostly unpredictable, there are measures you can take to prepare before the season begins:
- Be aware of people in your household who may be more sensitive and susceptible to wildfire smoke including those with chronic conditions like asthma, COPD, heart disease, or diabetes, pregnant people, infants and children, and older adults.
- For those who require rescue medications, especially for respiratory conditions like asthma, stock up to ensure you have supplies on hand for when the smoke arrives.
- Consider purchasing a portable air cleaner with a HEPA air filter to reduce particulate matter indoors.
- During smoky times, keep your indoor air cleaner by closing your windows, recirculating air through a forced air system, and using an air cleaner. However, it’s important to not allow yourself to get too hot. For most people, overheating is more dangerous than breathing smoke.
- Use a well-fitted respirator or three-layer cloth or disposable mask outdoors. A good fit around the mouth and nose is the most important thing; inhaled air must pass through the material of the mask, not around it. Learn more about masks and wildfire smoke.
- People working outdoors should consult their occupational health and safety team about wildfire smoke protection.
- Learn about different tools you can use to monitor current air quality and wildfire smoke forecasts.
For more information about wildfire smoke, its impact on your health and fact sheets, visit: bccdc.ca/wildfiresmoke