Wildfire Smoke: The Risks to Your Health

Wildfire Smoke: The Risks to Your Health

Smoke From Wildfires: The Risks To Your Health

Particles produced by fires can travel hundreds of kilometers and affect human health.

Leslie Kramer walks her dogs in Calgary under heavy smoke from wildfires, May 16, 2023.

New Brunswick to Colombia From British to Quebec, the country is hit by a particularly early forest fire season which also promises to be one of the most intense.

It is composed of a mixture of several gases (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide) and fine and ultrafine particles often invisible to the naked eye. Inhaling the gases is particularly dangerous near fires, where the particles can travel up to a thousand kilometres.

The particles are made up of very small, burnt organic matter that can settle deep in the lungs or on mucous membranes, says Dr. Stephane Perron, of the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ).


“In the coming days, in the Montreal region and in other regions of Quebec, it's really the presence of particles fine in the air which is disturbing. »

— Dr. Stéphane Perron, INSPQ

Smoke from forest fires affects the entire Abitibi-Témiscamingue region.

There is no safe level of exposure to smoke-borne pollutants. It can therefore be harmful in low concentrations, particularly for people with heart and respiratory diseases.

“The air you breathe can be polluted, even if you don't see or smell smoke. »

— Dr. Stéphane Perron, INSPQ

However, the health risks increase with the duration of exposure and the quantity of polluted air inspired.

< p class="e-p">For people who don't have significant health problems, we're mostly talking about itchy and watery eyes, and irritation of the nose and throat, says Dr. Perron.

The smoke may cause headaches, dizziness and mild coughing. Air pollution can also trigger asthma attacks in some people, adds the doctor working at INSPQ.

“This is particularly worrying for people with heart problems, for whom exposure to smoke can lead to heart attack. »

— Dr. Stéphane Perron, INSPQ

The raging forest fires, in Abitibi and on the North Shore, in particular, are causing a deterioration in air quality up to in Montreal, where yellowish clouds covered the sky on Monday.

Regardless of age, the most vulnerable people are those with chronic conditions, notes Dr. Stéphane Perron. Diabetics and people with heart or lung diseases (asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and heart failure) are therefore the most susceptible to the harmful effects of smoke.

Young children and pregnant women are also at risk.

Those who work outdoors may also be more vulnerable, as they breathe deeper and faster. Same thing for people who practice physical activity outside.

With an area of 2405 square kilometres, the Donnie Creek wildfire is one of the largest in British Columbia history.

Limit your outdoor activities and be on the lookout for messages from public health authorities, says Dr. Perron. When certain thresholds are exceeded, recommendations to stay indoors are issued.

“You should avoid expose yourself to smoke by staying in the house and closing the windows tightly. Also, the mechanical ventilation must be closed to prevent air exchange between the outside and the inside. »

— Dr. Stéphane Perron, INSPQ

Also, make sure to keep your pets inside.

In the car, keep the windows closed and put the ventilation on recirculation mode. the air. Ensure the well-being of people at risk in your circle of acquaintances, particularly those who live alone.

Montreal experienced a smog episode on Monday, June 5, 2023 due to active forest fires in various parts of the country.

In Canada, the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is calculated from the concentrations of three air pollutants: ozone, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter (PM2.5 ).

These pollutants are considered the best indicators of health risks associated with the mixture of outdoor air pollutants.

The rating is represented by numbers from 1 to more than 10, which are grouped into categories according to the health risks:

  • 1 to 3 = low risk
  • 4 to 6 = moderate risk
  • 7 to 10 = high risk
  • Above 10 = very high risk

It is possible to follow the situation in your region by consulting the Government of Canada website or by downloading the WeatherCAN application.