As the 2019 wildfire season kicks off with gusto, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has released a new series of online fact sheets to help people protect themselves from inhaling wildfire smoke.
The summers of 2015, 2017 and 2018 each broke records for the worst B.C. wildfire seasons, with four B.C. communities ranking in the top 10 for worst air quality rates in Canada in 2018. The three communities with the worst air quality in the country in 2018 were all in the B.C. Interior: Quesnel, Prince George and Williams Lake.
“It’s really got people’s attention,” Sarah Henderson, a senior scientist with Environmental Health Services at the BCCDC, said in a press release.
“Based on what’s happened over the past few years, wildfire smoke will begin to dominate our lifetime exposure to air pollution. We need to prepare — and prepare early — for every wildfire season with the thought that it may be the worst season ever.”
There is currently little research on the longer-lasting health effects of wildfire smoke. In the absence of scientific evidence, the BCCDC recommends people take a more cautious approach to wildfire smoke.
The BCCDC also recommends members of the following groups reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke:
- People with chronic conditions, especially lung and heart diseases
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- Infants and young children
Because people spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors, the BCCDC recommends people purchase a portable air cleaner that uses HEPA filtration to remove smoke from the indoor air. Portable air cleaners can be moved between rooms, and they have been proven to reduce small particle concentrations in the air by 40 to 80 per cent.
The BCCDC also recommends that anyone with a chronic disease work with their doctor to create a management plan for smoky periods.
If a person requires rescue medications, they should ensure they have a supply at home and always carry the medicine with them. They should have a clear plan in the case that their rescue medicine does not bring their condition under control.
If someone is pregnant or caring for an infant during the summer months, the BCCDC recommends they make a plan to minimize smoke exposure.
The BCCDC also has more information available online to help people with wildfire smoke response planning. They also have a growing list of new fact sheets about the health effects of wildfire smoke, preparing for a wildfire smoke season and portable air cleaners for wildfire smoke.