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Alberta wildfires: Experts address long-term mental, physical impacts of smoke

Summer in Alberta: Another day, another smoke-filled sky.

Due to the change in wind direction, the smoke from the wildfires in northern Alberta (near High Level and Fort Chipewian) swept south into south-central Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

“Most of the ongoing wildfires in our region are in the northern tip of the province,” said Justin Shelley, a meteorologist with the Canadian Environment and Climate Change Agency.

He said there was considerable fire activity and that changes in the wind carried the smoke southwards.

“It’s a statewide epidemic as of today,” Shelley said Friday.

He said wind forecasts will keep the area smoky through the weekend, at least until Sunday night, when the low pressure system brings rain.

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“Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to improve much in the next few days.”

Click to play video: 'It's not safe to be outdoors': Wildfire smoke sets off air quality warning for millions in Canada and the US

‘It’s Dangerous to Stay Outdoors’: Wildfire Smoke Causes Millions to Issue Air Quality Warnings in Canada and US

Edmonton’s air quality index was level 8 on Friday morning, but is expected to drop to level 7 by Saturday. He was level 4 in Calgary and is expected to move up to level 7 by Saturday.

The worst areas were Cold Lake and Fort McMurray, where air quality was level 10+ (very high risk) Friday morning.

A special air quality statement covered the entire state. Environment Canada has issued an alert, saying “smoke is deteriorating air quality and impairing visibility.” Visibility reduction from air quality and wildfire smoke can fluctuate even at short ranges and can change significantly from hour to hour,” officials said.

Smoke from wildfires at the Stampede in Calgary on Friday, July 14, 2023.

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The City of Edmonton has launched an extreme weather response to deteriorating air quality. It is scheduled to run until 8:00 a.m. on July 15, but may be extended.

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The response is triggered when air quality is level 7 or higher for two consecutive days and is often consistent with Environment Canada’s Special Air Quality Statement.

This status means that city facilities such as recreation centers, swimming pools and libraries are available to anyone wanting to escape the smoke. N95 masks are also available through select distributor partners.

Click to play video:

Canada wildfires send smoke reaching Europe, U.S. issues air pollution alert

Alberta has 122 wildfires burning a record 1.6 million hectares.

As of Friday, 17 were listed as unmanageable.

The BC Wildfire Service said there were 363 wildfires in the state.

BC also provides smoke forecasts online.

The unit of measure is “2.5 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (µg/m3)” at ground level. “PM2.5 is the respirable particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less and poses the highest smoke health risks,” the BC Wildfire Service said.

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Smoke forecast for Friday, July 14, 2023 by the BC Wildfire Service.

By: BC Wildfire Service

Smoke Affects Mental Health

Smoke-filled summers from wildfires can wreak havoc on our mental health.

Registered psychologist Angela Grace, Ph.D., said, “There’s definitely a disappointment that poor air quality will delay or even shut down summer plans.”

“There’s worry about our health, there’s worry about not being able to do what we want to do. And talking to some people, there’s real, real worry about our environment.”

For those concerned about climate change, Grace suggests acting on what you can control. That means becoming an environmental activist or taking small actions to improve the environment in your immediate home, workplace, or sphere of influence.

“There are things you can do by speaking up and having knowledge.”

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On a daily level, we recommend having a Plan B for social events and activities.

“Have a Plan A ready for when the air quality is good,” said Grace. “I was supposed to go camping this weekend, but I’m not going because air quality and health come first.

“How can we be adaptive and change our plans?

“We have to think about: Okay, plans have changed. It might not be as fun, but to do something indoors that calms the nervous system. What should I do now?

“If you can’t go outside, connecting with people will release oxytocin and good endorphins,” she added.

Click to play video:

How Canada’s Smoky Summer Affects Physical and Mental Health

Smoke Affects Physical Health

Ann Hicks, associate professor of pediatric respiratory medicine, said that as wildfire smoke becomes more common, it’s starting to be less of a one-time exposure.

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“We can’t breathe this substance on a regular basis,” she says.

“Think of smoke like you would any other chemical exposure. I will,” she explained.

“Some of it can go through your nose and into your airways, sore your throat or sting your eyes and cause itching. up to where it can cause inflammation and lung damage.

“Very fine particulate matter can actually be absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the brain.”

Hicks said exposure to wildfire smoke is bad for both the short and long term.

“In the short term, you may have a cough or feel like mucus. There are values ​​to consider as limits, and then safe limits for everyday exposure.

“Once you start smoking for weeks or even months, your daily safe exposure limit is very low. The World Health Organization has set it.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton Wildfire Smoke Effects Raise Concerns'

Edmonton Wildfire Smoke Effects Raise Concerns

Hicks personally checks air quality health indicators and makes decisions based on those levels. For example, on Friday she wore an N95 mask while walking her dog outside. This removes about 85 percent of the particles that cause lung damage.

“No one should exercise or work outdoors when they are in the orange or red zone, which is considered dangerous. They should try to stay indoors and outdoors as much as possible.

“When in this yellow zone, infants and young children, pregnant women, and people with heart, lung or other medical conditions should exercise extreme caution. They may limit their exercise. ”

If air quality is poor, Hicks suggests keeping doors and windows closed and filtering the air using something like a HEPA or HVAC system. She worries about those who cannot escape the air.

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“People prefer people who work outdoors or live in insecure places. Where do you go to get away from the smoke?”

Click to play video: “Burning Throat: Canadian Wildfires Receiving Air Pollution Advisory for Millions”

‘A sore throat’: Canadian wildfires cause millions to receive air pollution advisories

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