Ministry of the Environment explains outage amid smoky conditions

Kingston City Hall, normally clearly visible from Fort Henry hill, is barely perceptible through the smoke on Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Poor air quality and smoky conditions continue in the Kingston area, but those looking for more information on air quality were thwarted yesterday as the Kingston Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) monitoring station was experiencing issues, according to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Yesterday, Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023, readings for the Kingston area were unavailable on the Air Quality Ontario website, which provides real-time data on the levels of air pollution and forecasts Air Quality Health Index maximums for the Kingston area.

“The ministry is aware of issues at our Kingston Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) monitoring station, which is impacting AQHI readings for that location. We are working to bring the station back online as soon as possible. Air quality alerts will continue to be issued if forest fire smoke is expected to be of concern,” the Ministry told Kingstonist in an email.

“Please note that all three pollutants (ozone, fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide) are required to report a valid AQHI value, so if any of them are missing for a particular hour, the AQHI cannot be reported for that hour. However, ozone and nitrogen dioxide concentrations as well as AQHI forecasts remain available on our website.”

Readings are absent from Monday, Jun. 26 at 6 a.m. through 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023.

This morning, the Kingston area is at level six, or moderate risk, with conditions expected to deteriorate further this afternoon, possibly to a projected nine (high risk) before returning to a level six on Friday.

Environment Canada has continued their ‘Special Air Quality Statement’ for the area due to smoke from forest fires, also noting the high level of air pollution may continue into Friday.

“Air quality and visibility due to wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour,” the national weather agency stated.

Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health issued a special air quality statement earlier this week, as well. The Health Unit said that milder and more common symptoms of smoke exposure include:

  • sore and watery eyes
  • runny nose and sinus irritation
  • scratchy throat and mild coughing
  • headache

More severe symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath 
  • wheezing (including asthma attacks)
  • severe cough
  • dizziness
  • chest pains
  • heart palpitations

“Stop or reduce your activity level if breathing becomes uncomfortable or you or someone in your care feel unwell. Please contact your health care provider if you develop severe symptoms,” KFL&A Public Health said in a press release on Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2023.

“Be sure to check on people in your care and those around you who may be more susceptible to smoke.”

“Reduce sources of indoor air pollution. If you can, avoid smoking or vaping indoors, burning incense and candles, frying foods, using wood stoves and vacuuming. Dust on indoor surfaces can be removed by wiping and wet mopping during a pollution episode,” Public Health continued.

“If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted respirator type mask (such as a NIOSH certified N95 or equivalent respirator) that does not allow air to pass through small openings between the mask and face, can help reduce your exposure to the fine particles in smoke.”

Residents can check and monitor the Ontario Air Quality Health Index here.

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