How to stay safe from wildfire smoke as air quality worsens in Toronto

Toronto continues to remain under a special air quality statement due to elevated air pollution caused but the ongoing wildfires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario.  According to Environment Canada, air quality in they city will reach level 7 on its index by 11 a.m. on Wednesdays indicating a “high risk” as reported by the federal weather agency.  And while the agency recommends “reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors, if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation,” the Government of Canada has provide a number of ways to safeguard your health.

Why is wildfire smoke so harmful?

When forests and grasslands are engulfed in wildfires, they generate dense smoke, which serves as a significant contributor to the release of toxic air pollutants. This pollution consists of fine particles that are not visible to the naked eye but can deeply penetrate our lungs and bloodstream, potentially resulting in severe health consequences.

Who is most at risk?

  • small children
  • pregnant women
  • elderly
  • people with lung or heart conditions
  • people involved in strenuous outdoor worked or sports

*During heavy smoke conditions, all Canadians are at risk regardless of their age or health.

What are the symptoms of smoke exposure?

Milder and more common symptoms of smoke exposure include:

  • sore and watery eyes
  • runny nose and sinus irritation
  • scratchy throat and mild coughing
  • headache

The following symptoms are less common, but are more serious:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing (including asthma attacks)
  • severe cough
  • dizziness
  • chest pains
  • heart palpitations

Things you should avoid

  • limit outdoor activity and strenuous physical activities as much as possible
  • reduce sources of indoor air pollution which include: smoking, vacuuming; unless your vacuum cleaner is equipped with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter; burning incense and candles; using wood stoves; using cleaning products that can emit high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) improperly
  • stay out of the sun

Things you should do

  • drink plenty of water
  • use portable air purifiers, which may reduce indoor particulate levels
  • install and maintain at least one CO alarm in the home.
  • stay cool

How to protect your mental health

During a wildfire smoke event you may feel anxious, stressed out, sad or isolated. Experts say that eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising indoors and maintaining contact with friends and family can help. Even though a smoke event may last a long time, it will eventually come to an end. Sharing positive outlook and attitudes will help get you through it.

For more information and to download facts sheets about wild fires, visit the Government of Canada’ website.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO