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:
- 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:
- 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
- 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.
- Wildfire Smoke 101
- Wildfire smoke and pregnancy
- Wildfire smoke during extreme heat events
- Face masks for wildfire smoke
- Get prepared for a wildfire – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)
Source: Wildfire Smoke (bccdc.ca)