Wildfires and their associated smoke have always been a part of summer in B.C., but the last two seasons have been particularly bad, with heavy smoke from wildfires blanketing much of the province for weeks at a time.
So much smoke for prolonged periods can have serious health effects, particularly for the very young, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions. The best ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke pollution are to seek out smoke-free environments and reduce your exposure to smoke.
1. Ensure cleaner indoor air in your home: Purchase a portable air cleaner (http://bit.ly/2XGxIkN) that uses high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration to remove smoke from indoor air.
2. Know where to find cleaner air: Many large public spaces may provide cooler and cleaner air. Know where those places are in your community, such as libraries and community centres.
3. Be aware of people who need extra care: People with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, as well as pregnant women, infants, and young children, are most affected by wildfire smoke. If you or your loved ones are at increased risk, work with your health care provider to create a management plan for smoky periods.
4. Have a smoke contingency plan: If you are planning an outdoor event or activity, especially with those most at risk, ensure that you have an alternate plan in case the smoke levels are unacceptable.
5. Have a plan for rescue medications: If you use rescue medications, such as asthma inhalers, make sure you have a supply at home and always carry them with you during wildfire season. Have a plan to follow if your rescue medications cannot bring your condition under control.
6. Postpone outdoor activities: If you exercise, consider doing so indoors until the smoke clears. Other outdoor activities, such as gardening and house and yard work, should likewise be postponed if possible.
7. Use a respirator if you must be outside for a prolonged period of time: The most common type of respirator used to protect against wildfire smoke exposure is the N95 particulate-filtering facepiece respirator. These respirators must be fit tested by a trained professional so that they form a tight seal with the face. Note that masks—such as loose-fitting surgical-type masks—are not substitutes for respirators. These masks are not designed to filter the fine particulates or gases and vapours that are in wildfire smoke.
8. Review resources from WorkSafe BC: If you work outdoors, review WorkSafe BC resources (http://bit.ly/2GpK06H) and be aware of your occupational health and safety policies and procedures for wildfire smoke events.
9. Check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and follow the advice there: The AQHI (http://bit.ly/2XPmxBA) is a scale designed to help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health. The AQHI also provides important advice on how to protect your health during air quality levels associated with low, moderate, high, and very high health risks.