Wildfires and smoke have always occurred in British Columbia, but they are becoming more frequent and severe as the climate changes. Wildfire smoke is a form of air pollution that can affect your health.

Wildfire smoke and pollution levels

In Canada, wildfires can significantly increase air pollution levels. Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles, and water vapour that contains:

  • ozone

    Image Credit: Jen Burgess/Isoline Studios for BC Centre for Disease Control

  • sulphur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • carbon monoxide
  • volatile organic compounds
  • fine particulate matter (PM2.5)

It is the fine particles (PM2.5), not visible to the human eye, that get deep into our lungs and bloodstream. These fine particles are the main health risk from wildfire smoke.

There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure for most of these pollutants. This means that smoke can impact your health even at very low levels. As smoke levels increase, your health risks increase. Air quality may be decreased even if you can’t see or smell smoke.

Symptoms of smoke exposure

Milder and more common symptoms of smoke exposure include:

  • headaches
  • a mild cough
  • a runny nose
  • production of phlegm
  • eye, nose and throat irritation

These symptoms can typically be managed without medical intervention.

Some people may experience more severe symptoms and should seek prompt medical attention. Call HealthLink BC (8-1-1), talk to your primary care physician or visit a walk-in clinic if you’re experiencing:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe cough
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations

Reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke

The best way to protect your health is to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke.

  • Stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed.
  • Use a clean, good quality air filter (for example, HEPA) in your ventilation system.
  • Use a portable air purifier to filter particles from wildfire smoke.
  • If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted respirator type mask that does not allow air to pass through small openings between the mask and face, can help reduce your exposure to the fine particles in smoke.
  • If you need to work outdoors, check with your provincial or territorial occupational health and safety organization or your local health authority.

Multilingual Resources

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How to prepare for the wildfire smoke season نحوه آمادگی برای مقابله با فصل دود ناشی ازآتش سوزی جنگل ها   如何为野火烟雾季节做好准备 산불 연기 계절에 대비하는 방법  How to prepare for the wildfire smoke season Part 1
Health effects of wildfire smoke اثر دود ناشی از آتش سوزی جنگل ها بر روی سالمتی 野火烟雾对健康的影响 산불 연기가 건강에 미치는 영향 How to prepare for the wildfire smoke season Part 2
Portable air cleaners for wildfire smoke تمیزکننده سیار هوا برای مقابله با دودناشی از آتش سوزی جنگل ها  便携式空气净化器用于应对 野火烟雾 산불 연기에 적합한 이동식 공기 정화기 Portable Air Cleaners for Wildfire Smoke


Additional Resources:

Source: Wildfire Smoke (bccdc.ca)