During wildfire season, almost everyone in Houston faces the health dangers of exposure to smoke.
As the May 11 fire near Fraser Lake demonstrated, the season is here and it’s time to consider how inhaling smoke can affect us.
“Preparing for wildfire season is incredibly important,” said Sarah Henderson, a Senior Scientist with Environmental Health Services at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, in a press release. “The more people we can get talking about the effects of smoke from wildfires, the better.”
The summers of 2015, and 2017-2018 were the worst on record for wildfires in the province.
“It’s really got people’s attention,” Henderson said. “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 worse season ever.”
Wildfire smoke contains a mix of gases including carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause damage.
Inhaling the smoke makes it harder for the lungs to get oxygen into the bloodstream, can irritate the respiratory system and lead to inflammation in other parts of the body, and raise the risk of some infections, like pneumonia in older people and ear infections in children.
Certain groups, such as pregnant women, the elderly and young children and infants should especially try to avoid exposure to wildfire smoke. People with chronic conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and other lung and heart problems should also reduce their exposure.
Though there might be a lot of smoke around during wildfire season, there are ways to limit exposure.
Consider buying a portable air cleaner with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. They can take a lot of smoke particles from indoor air.
Community centres, libraries and malls usually have cool, filtered air that offer a break from the smoke outside.
When driving keep the windows shut, the air conditioner on and set the air on recirculate to limit the inflow of outdoor air.
Try to exercise indoors because the harder you breathe the more smoke you inhale. Drink lots of water to help the body cope with the smoke.
People who work outdoors should consult resources from WorkSafe BC.