As we head into July – with wildfires already burning in BC – it is important to think about how we can stay safe and healthy this summer, even through poor air quality conditions. The smoke caused by wildfires is a mixture of different air pollutants depending on the type of fuel being burned and the atmospheric conditions, and is a major irritant to our lungs and airways. The smoke particles can travel deep into the body and trigger inflammation, and can contribute to health conditions such as asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and even heart problems. While we all should be mindful of these possibilities, children, infants, older adults, pregnant women, and those with chronic illness (especially respiratory conditions), are at an increased risk and need to take extra caution.
With wildfires burning out of control, in the summer of 2018 British Columbia was in a province-wide state of emergency. There was a reported 40% increase in people needing Ventolin inhalers, and a 18.6% increase in doctor’s visits regarding asthma from the record breaking summers of 2017 and 2018. While we did not have to evacuate, Prince George was devastated by smoke from surrounding wildfires, being among the 10 worst cities in the world for air pollution for August of that year. Surely everyone remembers waking up in the morning with the sky still black for a couple of mornings … between 55.5 and 150.4 is considered “unhealthy” for Air Quality Index, and Prince George was at 72.2, roughly 5 times worse than average. As far as 2019 goes, only time will tell, but due to a very dry Arctic front that came down and current lower levels of precipitation, we will need a dramatic change in weather patterns to turn things around and prevent the tinder-dry conditions that can lead to another dangerous wildfire season.
While increasing our overall health and fitness has a protective effect against the associated risks of poor air quality, even the healthiest of us need to take measures to keep ourselves safe. Our very best defence is reducing our exposure to the smoke particles. Most importantly, try to limit the amount of time you spend outside when the air quality is poor, especially for more physical activities. Before heading outdoors, check air quality advisories to see if pollutant concentrations are approaching or exceeding healthy limits. You can also purchase portable air cleaners to keep the air inside your house as clean as possible: these draw in air, remove some of the smoke particles, and then send out air that is safer for you to be inhaling. Experts say to use one with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration as they are the most effective.
So, this summer let’s all keep active while also keeping safe from the smoke. A great way to do that is to trade your outdoor workouts for a group fitness class right here at AHS! And remember, follow fire bans, carefully extinguish campfires, and don’t throw your cigarette butts onto the ground… better yet, just don’t smoke… to help prevent wildfires.