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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — With Fort St. John and other areas in the Peace currently experiencing severe levels of wildfire smoke, residents must take precautions to protect themselves from negative health impacts.
According to the BCCDC, wildfire smoke is harmful to human health and makes it harder for an individual’s lungs to get oxygen into their blood. It can also irritate the respiratory system and cause an immune response, leading to inflammation that affects other parts of the body.
Smoky air may also increase the risk of some infections, including COVID-19, pneumonia, and ear infections in children.
Chief medical health officer with Northern Health, Dr. Jong Kim, told Energeticcity.ca the immediate symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, wheezy breathing, and headaches.
Kim said residents with pre-existing conditions, like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and diabetes, have an increased risk of adverse health effects from wildfire smoke.
“The concern is that—especially for someone who has a higher health risk with existing heart or respiratory conditions, or vulnerable populations like those who are pregnant or young children and the elderly— they might have more stress on their heart and lungs and get those more severe symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pains, or heart palpitations,” Kim explained.
Residents should seek medical attention if they experience more severe symptoms like shortness of breath, severe coughing, dizziness, chest pain, or heart palpitations by calling the Northern Health virtual clinic at 1-844-645-7811.
Kim said that even residents who don’t have chronic health conditions could be at risk from wildfire smoke and recommends everyone monitor themselves for symptoms of exposure.
According to Kim, Fort St. John will likely remain at a high or very high risk on the air quality health index over the weekend. He recommends residents limit their time outdoors.
“We advise people to reduce their outdoor activity — especially physically exerting outdoor activities. If you go outside, watch for your symptoms,” Kim said.
He said residents could reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke by monitoring the air quality health index, staying indoors and keeping doors and windows closed, wearing an N95 mask outdoors, and using indoor air cleaners.
Those without air cleaners can make their own filters at home using a box fan.
City of Fort St. John communications manager Ryan Harvey said if residents don’t have access to cool, clean air, they’re welcome to visit the Pomeroy Sport Centre or reach out to community organizations, like the Salvation Army.
Kim recommends that residents make a wildfire smoke management plan using info from their health authority and provincial government to help themselves and others reduce their risk.
“It’s great to have a prepared way to keep the indoor air kind of clean and also prepare yourself and be aware of people who might need extra help to be able to kind of support them.”
Kim said those who work outdoors should try to work indoors if possible. Otherwise, they should explore options with their employers to reduce their exposure, like working alternative hours, reducing strenuous activity, and wearing N95 masks.
According to WorkSafeBC, employers who have staff that work outdoors should consider the direction of the smoke and follow local air quality advisories to schedule work.
For more information on wildfire smoke and its health impacts, visit the BCCDC’s page on wildfire smoke here.
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