Smoke from U.S. wildfires poses a ‘very high’ health risk in Coquitlam

Metro Vancouver had the worst air quality in the world Saturday morning

Smoke from wildfires in Northern California, Washington and Oregon continue to blanket the Metro Vancouver leading to a ‘very high’ health risk for residents of the Tri-Cities. 

One air quality monitoring station in Port Moody recorded 117 micrograms of fine particulate matter per square metre — more than four times the level at which it becomes dangerous for your health.

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In central Coquitlam Saturday afternoon thick smoke obscured much of the skyline. Metro Vancouver’s air quality index at the Port Moody station — the only one currently feeding information in the Tri-Cities — sat at 10+, which is the highest rating on the scale and considered very high risk. 

Air quality has reached levels that pose a 'very high risk' to anyone engaged in strenuous exercise
Air quality has reached levels that pose a 'very high risk' to anyone engaged in strenuous exercise outside. - BCCDC

For several days, Environment Canada has advising children, the elderly and those with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses to avoid strenuous outdoor activity. Now It’s also encouraging healthy adults to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activity until the air quality improves.

“So it’s going to pretty much affect everybody,” Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environmental Canada, told the Times Colonist Friday. “It’s recommended that everybody take it seriously for their health and for the health of the health-care system, not to mention that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and this COVID virus is respiratory-related.”

 

The index assesses the health risks posed by a mixture of pollutants, including particulate matter, oxone and nitrogen dioxide. The risk to health is very high when particulate matter reaches 25 micrograms per cubic metre, Castellan said.

“And we’re at more than 100 for many locations across the south coast,” he said.

At one point Saturday, Metro Vancouver registered having the worst air quality in the world, with Portland, Ore, Seattle, Wa., and San Francisco, Calif. rounding out the top four. By 3 p.m. Vancouver sat at 201 on the United States air quality index, or AQI, according to the website iqair.com. Only Portland has worse air quality.

Air quality ranking at 9:39 a.m. Saturday put Vancouver as the worst in the world.
Air quality ranking at 9:39 a.m. Saturday put Vancouver as the worst in the world. - iqair.com

Smokey skies are predicted to last into Monday in some locations across southern British Columbia. That’s when a Pacific storm is expected to hit the coast, with a chance of showers expected to come to Coquitlam by sometime Monday, according to the Weather Network.

 While midweek is expected to be drier, more rain could fall later next week, on Friday and Saturday, Castellan said.

The changing weather pattern will be helpful, said Castellan, but whether it makes a big dent in the wildfire smoke from Oregon, California and Washington remains to be seen.

“But lower temperatures and some rain is certainly better than just a straight up strong ridge, of course,” he said.

It’s possible there will be windows of better air quality as the Pacific storm comes in and the thick plume of smoke migrates east, said Castellan.

“It’s going to be bad for a little while, with glimpses of better air quality throughout the later half of the weekend. Hopefully by Monday or Tuesday afternoon, when we have this weak Pacific storm, it will help the overall air quality,” he said. 

— With files from Louise Dickson

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