Air quality and wildfires
Having adequate air quality is important to health and safety. Various irritants and pollutants can impact air quality and pose a risk to residents. Examples of contaminants include smoke from fires, mould, fungi, bacteria, pollen/spores, chemical gases, vapours, particles, and radiological pollutants.
People who may be more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution include children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with certain health conditions.
Air quality should be considered both indoors and outdoors. To protect your family from the adverse effects of contaminated air quality, take the following precautions:
- In the event of an air quality emergency, arrange to stay with family and friends who are not in the affected area, if possible
- Relocate to a public clean air shelter or a commercial building with good air filtration like a shopping mall
- Avoid activities that create smoke or other particles indoors: smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars; using gas, propane, or wood-burning stoves and furnaces; spraying aerosol food, frying or broiling food; burning candles or incense; vacuuming (unless you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter)
- Ensure your 72-hour emergency kit has the following items: water, prescribed medications, and inhalers
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection, as these masks commonly found at hardware stores will not protect you from the dangerous particles found in wildfire smoke or other toxic particles
- Consider purchasing an air purifier or filtration system for your home
- Pay special attention to pets; if they exhibit any symptoms of an air quality related illness, including coughing, gagging, trouble breathing, fatigue, weakness, stumbling, loss of appetite or thirst, contact your veterinarian
Consult the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) for information about the current air quality in your area.
Smoke from wildfires - even those thousands of kilometres away - can impact air quality in Winnipeg. Wildfire smoke can present dangers for all individuals, but can be particularly difficult for at-risk populations, including: young children, seniors, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, and those who are active outdoors engaging in strenuous work or exercise activities.
Health impacts from wildfire smoke may include eye irritation, coughing, and a runny nose. More severe impacts could include shortness of breath, asthma attacks, chest tightness, and elevated heart rates. The presence of wildfire smoke can also worsen the effects of pre-existing heart and lung conditions.
Take these precautions to protect yourself and your family from the hazards of wildfire smoke:
- Limit time spent outdoors
- Consider moving physical activities to indoor areas
- Keep windows closed to prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home
- Whenever possible, set your ventilation systems to recirculate air, turning off furnace and air conditioners which may draw wildfire smoke inside
- Consult your primary care provider if you have specific health concerns
- Check on any individuals who are considered at-risk populations (friends, family members, or neighbours), and ensure they are staying safe and following precautions
- Keep informed by following the weather and checking the Air Quality Health Index or other public health sources