Wildfires lead to local air quality warning

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A smoky haze over Airdrie can be cause for concern, according to Dr. Jason Cabaj, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services (AHS) for the Calgary Zone. Smoke from the wildfires in B.C. has moved into the Airdrie region, causing AHS to issue a precautionary air quality advisory July 17 for the entire Calgary Zone.

According to Cabaj, while people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or cardiovascular conditions are more at risk, all residents should do what they can to limit their exposure to the smoke.

“In general, (the advisory) is focused on people who are more at high risk for impact – that’s people who have pre-existing conditions, particularly respiratory conditions or people who are younger or seniors,” he said. “With the advisory, we’re not able to predict how the air quality is going to change with precision over the next days or weeks.

“But when the air does get very bad – as it did several years ago with the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest – when we reach that territory, that’s when we tend to see people without pre-existing conditions start to be impacted.”

Cabaj said the impacts of the smoke include temporary, minor irritation of eyes and throat and possibly shortness of breath.

“We recommend (people) reduce their exposure to the smoke, stay indoors and change any plans they have, potentially, for any vigorous activity,” he said. “It’s really around people paying attention to how they’re feeling and, if they’re vulnerable, changing what they’re doing.”

Cabaj said AHS recommends those with pre-existing conditions should monitor their symptoms and contact their family doctor if they note any kind of impact from the smoke.

“There can be both short-term and long-term effects of being exposed to air pollution. It would be really difficult to tease out exactly how much of the long-term impacts could be related to wildfires and smoke exposure rather than all the other sources of air pollution,” he said. “When we issue these advisories we’re really focused on the short-term impacts and wanting people to be safe over the shorter term.”

The effects of the smoke from fires a province away is not unusual, according to Cabaj.

“Sometimes the way the plumes (of smoke) move in the air you can end up with some poor quality air quite far from the actual fires,” he said. “That’s part of the reason for the precautionary advisory because of the challenge of forecasting where there will be impacts.”

Advice is available to anyone experiencing symptoms via Health Link – a 24 hours a day, seven days a week telephone system. Call 811 toll-free to speak to a registered nurse.

More information about Alberta’s air quality is updated hourly on the Alberta Environment Air Quality Website at airquality.alberta.ca

Air quality information is also available by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-247-7333.

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