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No evidence that wildfire smoke will cause long term health problems

Last Updated Aug 4, 2017 at 3:23 pm PST

Haze covers parts of Metro Vancouver. (Photo taken July 6th, 2015) (Twitter via @bethyscotty)
Summary

Vancouver's current rating sits at just over 150, which is unhealthy

Take strenuous outdoor activities inside, warn experts

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – There is some good news for those worried about the wildfire smoke’s long-term impacts on health.

“We have no evidence that there’s long-term medical effects like cancers and other effects from this type of short-term exposure so people can be a little reassured by that,” explains Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonny Henry.

Smoke in the Lower Mainland and other parts of BC has led to an increase in treatments for asthmatics, but Henry admits the province hasn’t been tracking any information on the more serious health scares.

“We don’t have any way of knowing, but we expect that there are people who have required medical assistance because of the smoke.”

Meantime, it’s unclear how long smoke from the interior wildfires will linger over Metro Vancouver, but Environment Canada says it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer other than make some travel plans possibly,” explains Jennifer Hay from Environment Canada. “The overall pattern isn’t changing at all. It’s here to stay for at least a week. As long as the fires are burning, and the ridge is with us, we’re not going to be seeing much change.”

An air quality advisory and special weather statement are still in place for the region.

The Beijing-based World Air Quality Index, which publishes real time up-to-the-minute data on air pollution levels for cities around the world, has a current reading of 155 for Vancouver which is considered unhealthy.

“Some years we have some pretty bad fires in the Interior but it doesn’t affect the coast so much most years. The way the pattern is kind of stuck right now all that wind is drifting all that smoke from the Interior down to us,” says Hay. You can compare that to Los Angeles and Mexico City which are only half of Vancouver’s rating, while Beijing is just a third of that number.  A rating over 300 is considered hazardous. Hay adds the higher the elevation, the worse it gets but it isn’t ideal on the ground level where we are. “PM 2.5 is a very fine particulate that gets right into your lungs, and I think they’ve proven it can get into your bloodstream and affect your heart as well.”

Hot temperatures can be dangerous especially if you have:

  • breathing difficulties
  • heart problems
  • hypertension
  • kidney problems
  • a mental illness such as depression or dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease or if you take medication for any of these conditions

 

Watch for symptoms of heat illness:

  • dizziness or fainting
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headache
  • rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva) and decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine

 

You’re being encouraged to limit strenuous activities outside, particularly during mid-afternoon and early evening when ozone levels are the highest.

The last time an alert of this kind was issued in Metro Vancouver was 2015.

Click here to check air quality levels.