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Wildfire smoke prompts health warning for those with medical conditions

Heavy have hangs over the Thompson valleys.

Heavy haze hangs over the Thompson valleys.

By MICHELE YOUNG

Shirley Philpot isn’t going outside, especially with the hazy smoke that’s descended on the city from far-off wildfires.

While the Air Quality Index reached a rating of six today (Wednesday), which is considered moderate, the asthmatic Kamloops woman was feeling some impact, even inside her air conditioned house.

“I’ve increased my inhalers to fight it off,” she said Wednesday.

“It’s more of an irritant, inflames it (the asthma). It causes more irritation to your airways.”

B.C. Environment issued smoky skies warnings for several parts of the province late in the morning, including the Thompson, Shuswap, Okanagan, Similkameen, Nicola, Boundary and Fraser Canyon areas.

Philpot, a volunteer with the Kamloops branch of the Allergy/Asthma Information Association, said those with asthma, lung or heart disease, diabetes or other health problems that can be set off by the smoke should stay indoors.

If it’s too hot in their own homes, they should head to a mall, library, movie theatre or other air-conditioned space where they can get a break from the smoke, she said.

“You have to be smart about what you’re doing. You’re not going to go for a walk outside today.”

While Kamloops was a six on the AQI scale, Quesnel was at 13. Philpot’s sister, who works outdoors but is not asthmatic, reported her lungs were burning while on the job.

Ministry of Environment air-quality meteorologist Ralph Adams said the smoky skies advisory is new this year and is being piloted with Interior Health in the Thompson and Okanagan as a result of the demand for updated information about wildfires and smoke that affects health.

Wednesday’s measurements showed particulate at the downtown Federal building measuring 92 micrograms per cubic metre. Normal is between five and 10. During the 2003 and 2010 wildfires, the measurements jumped into the 200 range.

“Under these conditions, the particulate causes problems. We get our highest ozone during hot summer days, which often is when we get the most fires,” he said.

That can mean a double whammy for people with respiratory problems, although the smoke can also result in lowered ozone.

The pilot is aimed at reducing the level of panic that occurs when wildfires create health-compromising smoke. Adams said the smoky skies advisories are devised to not wait until smoke is a problem in a specific communities, but gets information out pertaining to broader regions and includes suggestions to mitigate health complications that stem from an environmental issue.

Wednesday’s advisory recommended residents of the affected regions avoid strenuous outdoor activity and seek a health-care provider if they had difficulty with breathing, chest pain, sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways.

It also suggested staying cool, drinking plenty of fluids, reducing smoke or burning of other materials indoors, watch air quality reports and updates and engage an asthma or personal care plan if needed,.

The smoky skies advisory can be found at: http://www.bcairquality.ca/air_wildfire_smoke_advisories/current/Smoky_Skies_Advisory_issued_for_Thompson_and_Okangan_Regions_20140716.pdf

About Mel Rothenburger (8243 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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