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Northern Ont. health unit launches new information dashboard on wildfires and smoke


The Timiskaming Health Unit recently launched a new dashboard on its website called 'Wildfires and Your Health,' where information on wildfires and local air quality is available.

On this dashboard, you will find regularly updated information on the level of wilefire smoke and air quality in the Timiskaming District of northeastern Ontario.

"We also have the predicted levels of smoke over the next couple of days as well on it," Timiskaming Health Unit epidemiologist Celine Butler said.

The health unit said that frequency and duration of wildfires is expected to worsen as impacts from climate change continue to increase.

Scientists have determined that wildfire smoke contains pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which can impact physical and mental health and overall well-being.

Long-term air quality monitors that measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5, and provide data for Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), are not available in the district.

"Last summer, we had a lot of smoke in our area from the northern Quebec wildfires," Butler said.

"We were frequently overwhelmed by smoke."

As part of a pilot project, 'PurpleAir,' sensors were installed throughout the district to monitor the air quality.

These sensors were installed by community partners across the health unit district to monitor for particle matter.

"The closest monitor that the government had was in North Bay," Butler said.

"That’s over 100 km away. So, it wasn't close enough to really provide great surveillance data and to provide the public with information that they could use."

The data collected is used to estimate an approximate AQHI value to help residents make informed decisions during periods of air pollution and smoke from wildfires.

"From an air quality perspective, you know, for the region, it is really, really nice that we have," said Temiskaming Shores Mayor Jeff Jeff Laferriere.

"It is some kind of update to make us aware of what's happening."

The health unit says young children, the elderly and people with heart or lung conditions, like asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and congestive heart failure are more sensitive to the adverse effects of exposure to smoke.

People participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors may also be more susceptible because they are breathing air deeply and rapidly. Risks increase when smoke becomes heavier and as the length of time a person is exposed increases.

Exposure to smoke can cause sore eyes, tears, cough and a runny nose.

If the smoke lasts days to weeks or is very heavy, it can cause lung problems and a longer-lasting cough.

Exposure to smoke can also make heart and lung conditions worse.

People who are concerned about smoke can take the following precautions:

  • Limit outdoor activities, especially if it makes you tired or short of breath
  • Stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. If you have an air conditioner set it to “re-circulate” and keep it running to help filter the air and keep you cool. If you do not have air conditioning, if possible, try spending some time in an air conditioned place (such as a mall or library) to cool off
  • Keep a close watch on at risk individuals, particularly those that live alone. Young children, elderly people and individuals with chronic conditions may be more sensitive to heat or smoke
  • If you are in your car or truck, keep the windows closed and put the air system on “re-circulate”
  • Limit any strenuous indoor activities if you have been exposed to smoke
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • If you have room air cleaners with HEPA filters turn them on
  • Don’t burn anything, including wood stoves, gas stoves and even candles

"The smoke information, it can be used to make decisions on if you're going to go outside and do physical activity or not," Butler said.

For more information about smoke and air quality monitoring in the Timiskaming district and how to protect yourself, visit the dashboard and resource page on our website Wildfires and Your Health. Top Stories

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