On Clean Air Day, wildfire smoke continues to pose high health risk

Smoke from wildfires in northern Ontario and Quebec continue to pose a significant risk to vulnerable populations, particularly when it comes to their respiratory health, according to the Lung Association.

As these fires continue to burn in various provinces, the impact of wildfire smoke on air quality becomes a pressing concern, especially on Clean Air Day, June 7. The Lung Health Foundation highlights the potential dangers faced by individuals with lung diseases and urges them to take extra precautions.

With the lung health of millions of Canadians being threatened by various wildfires currently burning, the Lung Health Foundation is reminding anyone living with a lung disease to take extra precautions in protecting their lung health.

“Forest fires release harmful pollutants and smoke which can have adverse effects on respiratory health,” said Jessica Buckley, president and CEO of the Lung Health Foundation. “Inhalation of wildfire smoke can cause immediate respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure may lead to chronic respiratory issues.”

Another special statement from Environment Canada once again warned Toronto residents that the smoke plumes emanating from forest fires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario could have a severe impact on air quality for the majority of this week. The report emphasizes that air quality and visibility may fluctuate dramatically over short distances and vary considerably from hour to hour.

The hazardous effects of wildfire smoke on health are a cause for concern, even at low concentrations. To safeguard personal well-being and reduce exposure to smoke, it is crucial for individuals to take proactive measures.

Vulnerable groups, including individuals with lung or heart diseases, the elderly, children, pregnant individuals, and outdoor workers, are at an elevated risk of experiencing adverse health effects due to the wildfire smoke.

“If you or someone under your care experiences symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, severe cough, dizziness, or chest pains, it is imperative to cease outdoor activities immediately and seek guidance from a healthcare professional,” advises the Environment Canada report. It also recommends staying indoors if feeling unwell and experiencing symptoms.

Social media is abuzz with the news of apocalyptic sunrises shrouded in thick haze and the smell and taste of wood smoke when walking outside.

“Downtown smells like campfire,” said one commenter on a Reddit.com post. “You can smell the pine in it.”

“Cool! It’s the scent of our impending demise!” said another, rather ominously.

According to a media report, the worst is yet to come and many may not even be able to see the sun rise tomorrow morning due to the smoke with the worst of it on the east side of Toronto stretching as far as Kingston.

The Environment Canada report provides several recommendations to maintain clean indoor air quality. It suggests keeping doors and windows closed as long as the temperature indoors remains comfortable. Additionally, the use of air purifiers equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in frequently occupied rooms can be beneficial. Individuals are cautioned against using air purifiers that emit ozone and are encouraged to inspect and replace filters as needed.

The report also suggests finding respite from the smoke by temporarily relocating to places within the community that offer clean, cool air, such as libraries, shopping malls, or community centers. Local health or municipal authorities can provide further guidance on suitable locations.

For those who must spend time outdoors, wearing a well-fitted respirator mask, such as a NIOSH certified N95 or equivalent respirator, can help reduce exposure to the fine particles present in smoke. However, it is important to note that respirators do not provide protection against the gases found in wildfire smoke. It is recommended to be attentive to one’s body and reduce or discontinue activities if experiencing symptoms.

The report emphasizes the importance of checking on individuals in their care and others who may be more vulnerable to the effects of smoke.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO