Remarks from the Chief Public Health Officer, June 19, 2023
June 19, 2023 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
Canada is experiencing more intense and frequent weather events associated with climate change. Many regions and communities across the country are witnessing this firsthand as wildfires continue to burn across the country.
As observed over the last few weeks, wildfire smoke can impact air quality over vast distances, affecting the respiratory health of people who live hundreds - or even thousands - of kilometres away.
Wildfire smoke is made up of small particles and gases. It is the fine particles not visible to the human eye that carries the greatest risk to human health as it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation and irritation. Some of the other components of smoke can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. There is growing evidence that exposure to seasonal wildfire smoke may have longer-lasting impacts on our health.
Indigenous communities in Northern and remote regions are disproportionately affected by emergency events, including floods and wildfires. This year, many First Nations have been forced to evacuate from their homes and ancestral lands due to wildland fire activity.
No matter where you live in Canada, you can be affected by wildfire smoke. In addition, wildfires often occur during extreme summer heat. Each of these events can pose a significant threat to our health, especially when combined.
To reduce the risk to our health, we must take steps to be prepared and be proactive. By using a multi-layered approach, including evaluating your health, you can reduce your risk. Being prepared includes being ready to take care of yourself and your family, including pets, should you be affected by wildfires or smoke. For example, ensure you have a sufficient supply of necessary medications and maintain your home ventilation system and use a clean, good quality air filter, and find out where your local clean air centre is.
Use the WeatherCAN app, listen for local air quality statements or check the information from local health authorities to stay informed about air quality, including the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), in your area or an area where you may be travelling.
If the air quality is poor or if you see or smell smoke, you can reduce smoke exposure by staying inside with doors and windows closed but keep cool – being too hot poses more risk than breathing smoke for most people.
If you do not have air conditioning and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek out a local cooling or clean air space.
Consider minimizing your exposure by limiting outdoor activities if the air quality is poor, especially if you are at higher risk for smoke related health impacts. Consider rescheduling these activities during better weather conditions. If you must spend time outside, consider using a well-fitted respirator type mask to reduce exposure to the fine particles from wildfire smoke.
No one is immune from the health impacts of wildfire smoke and extreme heat, but some people and communities are at greater risk for severe outcomes and should take extra precautions.
- pregnant individuals;
- infants and young children;
- people with asthma and other pre-existing chronic health conditions;
- outdoor workers; and
- those engaged in strenuous outdoor activities, including firefighters and emergency responders.
Watch for more common symptoms of smoke exposure, which include:
- irritation of throat, nose, and eyes;
- wheezing; and
If you have any of these symptoms, seek clean air either within your home or in a public space.
If it is also hot, then watch for the symptoms of heat illness which include headache, muscle cramps, thirst, dark urine, nausea/vomiting or even sleepiness. Make sure to stay cool and well hydrated. If you need to make a choice, then staying cool is more important than having clean air because heat illness is more serious.
Seek immediate medical attention if you develop severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pains, high body temperature, hot, red and dry skin, dizziness or confusion.
And remember to look out for each other. Take the time to check on neighbours, friends, and older family members. By staying informed and being prepared, we will get through this fire season together safely.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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