05 Jul

Five things to know about Vancouver’s air quality advisory

Source: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/metro/ By: TARA CARMAN, VANCOUVER SUN
BC Forest Fires 20150705
Smoke from wildfires blanket the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, Sunday, July 5 2015.

Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward, THE CANADIAN PRESS

It’s smoky out there, as most Metro Vancouver residents will have smelled in the air or with their first glance outside. Here are five things you need to know about the smoke in the air, which is coming from wildfires burning outside Metro Vancouver.

When will the smoke clear?

Expect it to stick around all day, said Lisa Coldwells, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

“We need to start stirring up the atmosphere and getting a bit of a marine push coming in from the ocean,” she said. “It’ll be probably late in the afternoon when finally some more of that westerly wind begins to move in. It will be an overnight phenomenon, so as the marine air pushes in overnight we’ll see the wind will start to stir up the atmosphere.”

The push of marine air overnight means slightly lower temperatures in Metro Vancouver in the low to mid-20s over the next couple of days, but it will also push the smoke inland into the Fraser Valley, where there will be no such respite from the hot temperatures, Coldwells said.

However, the smoke will remain higher in the atmosphere until officials can bring some of the nearby fires under control. This means it won’t be as smoky in Metro Vancouver.

“The air still looks brown and you still see those brilliant orange sunsets and sunrises, but right here down at the surface, you won’t be able to smell the smoke any more.”

Is it better to open the windows and deal with the smoke or close them and deal with the heat?

“People probably need to consider their own sensitivities to both heat and air quality if their only environment at home is a non-air-conditioned environment,” said Dr. Lisa Mu, a medical health officer with Fraser Health. “Probably the best thing to do would be for people to actually go somewhere that is cool and air-conditioned.

The City of Vancouver’s hot weather page link has a list of air-conditioned community centres and libraries open to anyone in need of respite from the smoke, including homeless people who may have chronic respiratory conditions or be dehydrated.

Are there air quality advisories in effect and what do they mean?

Metro Vancouver issued an air quality advisory Sunday due to high concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air due to smoke from wildfires outside the region. Exposure is a particular concern for the elderly, infants and anyone with chronic health conditions such including diabetes, lung or heart disease. These people should stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise. Environment Canada has also issued special weather and special air quality warnings for Metro Vancouver due to particulates in the air.

What is this fine particulate material causing the air quality alerts and what are the health effects?

Particulate matter can be generated by a number of things, including dust from roads, vehicle exhaust and combustion, Mu said. The particulars in Metro Vancouver’s air now are especially fine and the smaller they are, the worse the health effects, she explained.

“These small particulars are of special concern because they can make their way deeper into the respiratory tract, because of their small size. The health effects of exposure … include exacerbation of asthma as well as chronic respiratory conditions … increased cardiovascular disease and deaths.

“We also see that when it’s at high levels, as it is now in parts of the region, that healthy individuals may experience symptoms as well, such as irritation of the eyes, irritation of the respiratory tract and they may notice … decreases to their respiratory functioning.”

What can people do to protect themselves?

Those at highest risk of sickness due to the particulates in the air, such as the elderly, infants and people with chronic health problems — heart, lung conditions or diabetes — should go to a cool, air-conditioned space such as a library, community centre or mall, Mu said. Air filters, such as HEPA filters, can also help if they are adjusted to the appropriate air volume for the space.

Even otherwise healthy people are well advised to reschedule or reconsider strenuous outdoor activities such as jogging or cycling until conditions improve, Mu said, and monitor air quality readings for their area. Staying hydrated is also important, given the heat.

People can also help improve overall air quality by avoiding the use of cars, through carpooling and transit, Yu said.

Read more:

Vancouver Sun – Five things to know about Vancouver’s air quality advisory