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Wildfires: Here's who's most at risk when the air quality drops


Wildfires continue to impact air quality across Western Canada with health experts and Environment Canada warning that the smoke from the blazes poses serious risks to human health.

"Mostly health issues are going to be immediate," Jeffrey Brook, an expert in environmental health at the University of Toronto, told CTV's Your Morning. "Respiratory problems, predominantly… sometimes there might be heart issues."

Environment Canada warns that air quality from wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably during the day.

"The fine particles in wildfire smoke pose the main health risk. As smoke levels increase, health risks increase."

Brook says those in affected regions should pay close attention to Environment Canada's Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), which calculates pollutants in the air to determine the risk of harm.

"High is between seven and 10," he warned, "Calgary had an index of seven… this past weekend."

Environment Canada's recommendation for the general population during periods of high risk is to "consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors."

Who's most at risk?

Who's most at risk when the air quality drops? Seniors, pregnant people, smokers, infants, children, outdoor workers and those with pre-existing or chronic health conditions.

"Those who are more likely to be impacted should reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors or seek medical attention if experiencing symptoms," Environment Canada advised.

Milder symptoms can include eye, nose and throat irritation, as well a more concerning symptoms such as chest pains or a severe cough.

Brook says it's important for those at risk to be aware that they are susceptible, especially during periods of poor air quality.

If you're experiencing discomfort, he advises that it's important to "slow down" and be "less physically active."

"This will decrease the amount of air you're breathing, that will help."

Heading indoors is also one of the "best options," Brooks says, but unfortunately it's not a perfect solution.

"Indoors is not particularly clean… there is smoke that will get in."

Making sure to ventilate your house when the AQHI rises is important, however. Brook says that once smoke starts getting into your home it can actually " linger" longer than outdoors, so it's key to "get good, clean indoor air again."

Are there long-term health impacts?

Health experts still don't know much about the long-term health impacts of smoke from wildfires.

Brook says that's because wildfires used to be a phenomenon in the past was "quite intermittent" and something the human body could handle in short bursts.

Typically, Brook says that it's lower than what "we used to subject ourselves to" when smoking tobacco was allowed in bars and the workplace, but that changes when "you're right in the line of the plume," like those in Fort McMurray in 2016.

"We do know looking at the last decade… the estimates from Health Canada was there was a nearly $50-billion cost to society." Top Stories

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