Wildfire smoke is back in southeast BC, Special weather statement – Use of face masks during wildfire events

The Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, in collaboration with the Interior and Northern Health Authorities
has updated the Smoky Skies Bulletin due to smoke conditions.

Kuskanook Harbour Webcam on the Kootenay Lake north of Creston BC – Aug 15, 4PM

Areas covered by this Bulletin include: 100 Mile, Arrow Lakes – Slocan Lake, Boundary, Cariboo North, Cariboo South, Chilcotin, , East Columbia, East Kootenay, Elk Valley, Fraser Canyon, Kinbasket, Kootenay Lake, Nicola, North Columbia, North Thompson, Okanagan, Prince George, Shuswap, Similkameen, South Thompson, West Columbia, West Kootenay, Yellowhead and Yoho Park – Kootenay Park.

Grain Elevators in Creston BC (Looking towards Topaz and the Kootenay Summit) Aug 15, 4PM

Smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change.

Avoid strenuous outdoor activities. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact your health care provider: difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. Exposure is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, and lung or heart disease.

This bulletin will remain in effect until further notice.

Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk.

People with lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD, can be particularly sensitive to air pollution. They will generally experience more serious health effects at lower levels. Pollution can aggravate their diseases, leading to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits, and hospital visits.

Stay inside if you have breathing difficulties. Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help. If you open the windows you may let in more polluted air. If your home isn’t air-conditioned, consider going to a public place (library, shopping mall, recreation centre) that is air-conditioned.

For more information on current air quality, see: www.bcairquality.ca.

Visit www.airhealth.ca for information on how to reduce your health risk and your personal contribution to pollution levels, as well as for current and forecast AQHI values.

Please continue to monitor alerts and forecasts issued by Environment Canada.

Issued by Environment Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Environment

Use of face masks during wildfire events

Interior Health (IH) has received a number of inquiries from the public about the use of face masks for protection against wildfire smoke. IH would like to emphasize the best protection for the public is to reduce overall exposure to smoke, recognizing masks have their limitations.

For example, paper dust masks found at retail stores do not provide protection from the particles found in smoke. Individuals have also inquired about specialized face masks known as N95 respirators. While certified N95 respirators can filter tiny particles out of inhaled air, they are not recommended in most circumstances for the following reasons:

  • They must be properly fitted to each user to ensure protection. This process generally takes 20-30 minutes under the guidance of a professional with special equipment.
  • Breathing is more challenging when wearing these masks, which is a concern for those with respiratory issues.
  • There are no certified N95 respirators on the market designed to fit the faces of children.
  • They stop working if saturated with water or sweat.

The exception to the above would be individuals who work outdoors. They may benefit from the use of N95 masks provided that they have been properly fitted by a professional.

The best thing people can do is monitor the air quality in their area, take the steps to reduce smoke exposure, and monitor their symptoms.

Actions to reduce smoke exposure:

  • When at home ensure that air conditioners are on recirculate and consider using a portable air cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter or an electrostatic precipitator
  • Keep windows and doors closed when possible
  • Seek out public spaces with cleaner air, such as shopping malls or community centres
  • Limit your time outside
  • Reduce activity in smoky environments: the harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale
  • Stay cool, drink plenty of water

Smoke can affect each person differently, based on his or her health, age, and exposure. Smoke exposure is particularly a concern for those who have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, or diabetes. It is also a concern for pregnant women, infants, young children, and the elderly. When smoke levels become very high, even healthy people can be affected and everyone should be monitoring their systems and taking appropriate action to protect their health.

Symptoms to monitor:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain and discomfort
  • Coughing
  • Irritated eyes, nose, and throat

If you are experiencing symptoms and are concerned contact your health care provider or walk- in clinic. If your symptoms are severe, seek emergency medical attention.

For more information on air quality and wildfire smoke visit our website  https://www.interiorhealth.ca/YourEnvironment/EmergencyPreparedness/Major_Events/Pages/Air-Quality.aspx

Information on exposure to smoke in the workplace and minimizing worker exposure is available on the WorkSafeBC website. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/information-sheets/wildfire-smoke-frequently-asked-questions-faq?lang=en.