Wildfire smoke leads to local air quality warning

Smoke from wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia is making its way through Southern Manitoba today. This photo of was taken by Parks Canada near Wardle, B.C. in Kootenay National Park on August 1, 2018. Parks Canada

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Don’t breathe too deeply in Southern Manitoba today.

Environment Canada issued an air quality warning just before noon on August 8, stating that a “northwesterly flow aloft is helping to transport smoke from forest fires in Alberta and BC into southern Manitoba today.”

The smoke is causing poor air quality and reduced visibility in areas across Southern Manitoba, including Carman, the RM of Dufferin, Winkler, Morden, Altona, Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg.

The poor air conditions are expected to gradually improve in the Red River Valley later today, but will likely persist today and tonight in parts of southwestern Manitoba.

Advice from Environment Canada and Manitoba Health

Environment Canada warned that 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.

If your home is not air-conditioned, be sure the house doesn’t get too warm when doors and windows are closed to keep out smoke. Exposure to too much heat can also result in illness.

In general, wearing a mask is not the best way to protect your health during a smoke event. In fact, masks may lead to a false sense of security, which may encourage increased physical activity and time spent outdoors, meaning increased exposure to smoke. They can also make breathing more difficult.

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.

Due to the smoky conditions, individuals living in or travelling to the above noted areas are advised to be aware of potential health concerns that can be associated with current air conditions. In these current conditions, even healthy individuals may experience sore eyes, tears, coughing and a runny nose.

In areas affected by smoke from wildfires, Manitobans are encouraged to:
– Limit outdoor activity and/or strenuous physical activity; if breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity
– Reduce exposure to smoke by staying indoors or moving to areas with cleaner air, as conditions can vary dramatically by area
– Turn off furnaces and air-conditioning units that may draw smoke indoors
– Keep indoor air cleaner by avoiding smoking or burning other materials

People at higher risk include young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with heart or lung conditions (particularly asthma), and therefore should avoid as much exposure to smoke as possible.

Manitobans with health questions or concerns can contact their health-care provider or call Health Links – Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257. More information on the health effects of smoke is available at www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/environmentalhealth/smoke.html

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.

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