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Posted: July 8, 2021

Health and safety around wildfire smoke

Wildfires around B.C. are causing poor air quality in many areas of the province and conditions are expected to worsen.

The wildfire risk around the province is a concern and there are a number of evacuation orders and alerts in place. British Columbians are urged to exercise caution and remain vigilant to help prevent human-caused wildfires. The best way to protect yourself from the effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce your exposure by sheltering in place, stated a joint Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General and Emergency Management BC media release.

There is growing evidence that exposure to seasonal wildfire smoke may have longer-lasting impacts on people’s health. Smoky air can make it harder for your lungs to get oxygen to your blood. Fine particulate matter carries the greatest risk to people’s health because it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation and irritation. Smoke can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Exposure to wildfire smoke and the virus that causes COVID-19 can result in both respiratory symptoms, such as a dry cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing. Use the B.C. COVID-19 self-assessment tool to help determine whether you need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.

Poor air quality can be harmful to health, especially for those with chronic conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, or diabetes, pregnant people, infants and children, and older adults.

Take steps to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

Here are some tips for breathing easier during wildfire smoke events:

* Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors, stay hydrated and avoid rigorous outdoor activities.

* Exercising outside when it is smoky can also be a health risk for some people. The harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale.

* When indoors, keep the air clean (windows/doors closed, no smoking, no burning fireplaces/candles/incense, no vacuuming).

* During smoky times, you can keep your indoor air cleaner by closing your windows, recirculating air through a forced air system and using an air cleaner.

* You can also consider using a portable air cleaner that uses HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration to remove smoke from the indoor air

* When in a vehicle, keep windows closed with air conditioning set to recirculate.

* Visit places with air conditioning, such as shopping malls, community centres, swimming pools, public libraries, etc., as they often have cleaner, cooler air than smaller buildings or the outdoors, while following COVID-19 guidance for those communal spaces.

* For those who require rescue medications, especially for respiratory conditions like asthma, ensure you have sufficient supplies on hand for when conditions are smoky.

* If you cannot access cleaner air, some face masks can provide protection from wildfire smoke.

Read more information from BCCDC.

* Pay attention to local air quality reports and the conditions around you because smoke levels can change over short periods and over small distances.

Smoky skies bulletins are posted here.

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