Air ‘Terrible’ in Metro Vancouver, Air Quality Advisory Now Longest on Record

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
August 23, 2018World News

An Air Quality Advisory first issued on Aug. 13 continues as of Aug. 23 for the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley regions, making it the longest air quality advisory on record for the region. But the situation is expected to change soon owing to winds predicted to come in off the Pacific.

In a video captured on Aug. 21 from a hill north of Vancouver, thick smoke from wildfires in the province of British Columbia can be seen hanging over the city, as nearly 600 wildfires in continue to burn.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District (Metro Vancouver) cites high concentrations of “fine particular matter due to smoke” from the ongoing wildfires. The concentrations are expected to remain high pending weather changes.

Francis Ries, who monitors air quality for Metro Vancouver, said the air has about 10 times the fine particular matter compared to normal, news1130 reported. As of Aug. 22, Vancouver’s air quality is equivalent to a person smoking about eight cigarettes a day, according to an iTunes app, 604now reported.

Winds are blowing smoke out to sea, and could clear away the smoke currently smothering the area, Environment Canada Meteorologist Philippe-Alain Bergeron told the CBC.

“A lot of the smoke was actually pushed out sea … and so that smoke is going to be coming back in. … But eventually we do get that fresh clean marine air,” Bergeron told CBC. “It’s going to start clearing tonight (Aug. 22) for the West Coast of the island … and eventually make its way to the lower mainland tomorrow (Aug 23).”

Fine Particulate Matter

“Exposure to ozone and fine particulate matter is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly, and those who have underlying medical conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, or asthma,” the Metro Vancouver announcement (pdf) read.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) said that smoke with fine particulate matter can irritate eyes, throat, and lungs.

“We are experiencing terrible air quality. Asthma is like the canary in the coal mine,” environmental health scientist Sarah Henderson at the BCCDC told The Vancouver Sun.

“[Inhaling smoky air] really sucks the drive out of us, which is why we might feel so sluggish,” Henderson said.

Residents are cautioned against “strenuous outdoor activities” especially in the midafternoon and early evening, times of day when ozone levels are expected to be highest. The air quality advisory was expanded to ground level ozone as of Aug. 21. Ozone concentrations are expected to remain high in the area until at least Aug. 24.

Those in the region can track air quality data on the website, which is updated within minutes.

In the past month, 324 new wildfires started in British Columbia, 90 percent of those were started by lightning, according to the BC Wildfire Service. As of Aug. 21, 177 have been declared out, 28 were under control, 24 were being held and 95 remain classified as out of control—which means at least 70 percent of the total fires are under control.

A dramatic increase in doctor visits and prescriptions for lung ailments is expected in some areas of Vancouver, as suggested by computer modeling via the B.C. Asthma Prediction System, Henderson told the Vancouver Sun.

Staying Safe

Metro Vancouver has issued the following tips to minimize health risks from being exposed to fine particulate matter:

    • Stay cool and drink plenty of water.
    • Use symptom management medications, such as inhalers, if needed.
    • Continue to manage medical conditions such as asthma, chronic respiratory disease, and heart failure. If symptoms continue to be bothersome, seek medical attention.
    • Maintaining good overall health is a good way to prevent health effects resulting from short-term exposure to air pollution.

Those with chronic underlying medical conditions are being reminded to:

  • Avoid strenuous activity outdoors and stay in cool, air-conditioned environments, especially during the afternoon and early evening when ozone levels are highest.
  • Reduce indoor sources of pollution such as smoking and vacuuming, and run an air cleaner. Some room air cleaners, such as HEPA filters, can help reduce indoor particulate levels provided they are the right size for your home and filters are changed regularly.
  • Consider taking shelter in air-conditioned buildings, which have large indoor volumes and limited entry of outdoor air.
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