Special Air Quality Statement updated for Kingston area due to wildfire smoke

Kingstonist file image.

UPDATE (Wednesday, Jun. 7, 2023):

The Special Air Quality Statement issued by Environment Canada on Monday, Jun. 5, 2023, remains in effect for the Kingston area. Local conditions were considered “Hazardous” earlier today according to Air Quality Ontario, with Kingston showing the highest level of air pollution in the province.

Environment Canada and KFL&A Public Health are now reporting that air quality may improve on Thursday before deteriorating again on Friday.

“Some of the Napanee area may experience poor air quality into the weekend. Air quality and visibility can fluctuate over short distances and can vary from hour to hour,” Public Health said in an updated statement.

Original article:

Environment Canada has issued a Special Air Quality Statement for the Kingston area due to smoke being carried from local forest fires, as well as forest fires in Quebec.

“High levels of air pollution are expected due to smoke from forest fires. Poor air quality will persist through the day today and possibly through Tuesday for some areas,” the weather agency stated.

The statement was issued around 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Jun. 5, 2023, and Environment Canada warned that wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. This comes after multiple forest fires in Quebec, which the province has now said they are unable to address all of, followed by a forest fire that broke out on Sunday, Jun. 4, 2023, and reached approximately 50 hectares in size (according to the Greater Madawaska Township) in the Centennial Lake area just north of North Frontenac Township

“People respond differently to smoke. Mild irritation and discomfort are common, and usually disappear when the smoke clears. Drinking lots of water can help your body cope with the smoke,” Environment Canada said in the Air Quality Statement.

Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Heath also issued a Special Air Quality Statement, urging area residents to “Be air aware!”

The health agency shared the following symptoms of smoke exposure:

Mild and common symptoms of smoke exposure include:

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

Severe symptoms of smoke exposure include:

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

Public Health asked residents to contact their health care provider if they develop severe symptoms.

Environment Canada and Public Health also recommended keeping doors and windows closed if the indoor temperature is comfortable, or taking a break from the smoke at a location in the community where you can find clean, cool air.

For those who 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 exposure to the fine particles in smoke, the weather agency recommended. These fine particles generally pose the greatest risk to health, according to the air quality statement, however, respirators do not reduce exposure to the gases in wildfire smoke.

“If you have an HVAC system in your home, use the highest rated MERV filter for your system (ideally rated 13 or higher) and set the fan to recirculate air constantly. You can also use a portable High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) air cleaner. Keep your doors and windows closed if the temperature in your home is comfortable,” Environment Canada said in the statement.

“Everyone can take action to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke,” the statement continued. “People with lung disease (such as asthma) or heart disease, older adults, children, pregnant people, and people who work outdoors are at higher risk of experiencing health effects caused by wildfire smoke. Speak with your health care provider about developing a management plan for wildfire smoke events and maintaining a supply of necessary medications at home and always carrying these medications with you during wildfire season. Stop or reduce your activity level if breathing becomes uncomfortable or you or someone in your care feel unwell. Contact your health care provider or local health authority if you develop severe symptoms or need advice. Check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and monitor your symptoms.”

The weather agency reminds everyone that it is important to listen to their body and reduce or stop activities if they are experiencing symptoms. “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.”

Air quality and visibility due to wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour. For more details, please consult www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/air-quality-health-index/wildfire-smoke.html.

The weather agency suggested that anyone experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, should contact their mental health care provider for advice or visit https://www.wellnesstogether.ca/en-CA. Visit www.airhealth.ca for information on how to reduce your health risk and your personal contribution to pollution levels, as well as for current and forecast AQHI values.

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