Wildfires lead to air quality warnings for Kingston and the area

The city scape of Kingston looks eerily unfamiliar under a blanket of smoke on Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023. Environment Canada is predicting further air quality issues for Kingston beginning on the night of Tuesday, Jun. 27, 2023, and throughout the following day. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Environment Canada has issued a ‘special air quality statement’ for Kingston and the area as “high levels of air pollution” are in the forecast.

According to the national weather authority, those high levels of air pollution are due to smoke from wildfires, and will develop overnight on Tuesday, Jun. 27 and into Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023.

“Smoke plumes from forest fires over northeastern Ontario and Quebec will move into the area overnight tonight, resulting in deteriorated air quality. Conditions may improve for some areas Friday,” Environment Canada said in the special air quality statement, issued just before 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jun. 27, 2023.

“Air quality and visibility due to wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour.”

The Ontario Air Quality Health Index forecasts the risk due to air quality for Kingston rising from ‘Low – 3’ tonight to ‘Moderate – 6’ tomorrow, Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023. During times of ‘moderate’ risk due to air quality, the Ontario government suggests that the at-risk population “consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you are experiencing symptoms,” while those who are not in the at-risk population have “no need to modify your usual outdoor activities unless you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.” The at-risk population is defined by the province as those with heart or breathing problems. The province suggests the following during periods when special air quality statements are issued:

  • Avoid vehicular and industrial emissions
  • Eliminate indoor air pollution
  • Check local weather forecasts

Those who are particularly sensitive to poor air quality include:

  • People with cardiovascular disease
  • People with lung disease
  • Children and teenagers
  • Older adults

Further information from the Ontario Air Quality Health Index can be read here.

Wildfire smoke fills the low-lying wetlands of Kingston on Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023. Photo by Kingstonist.

According to Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, who has also issued a special air quality statement, “High levels of air pollution will develop tonight due to smoke from forest fires over northeastern Ontario and Quebec, resulting in deteriorated air quality. Conditions may improve for some areas Friday. Air quality and visibility can fluctuate over short distances and can vary from hour to hour due to the wildfire smoke.”

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.”

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

“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.”

Currently (as of 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Jun. 27, 2023), there are special air quality statements due to smoke from wildfires issued for the following areas in the region:

  • Kingston
  • Odessa
  • Frontenac Islands
  • Napanee
  • Cosecon
  • Picton
  • Sandbanks Park
  • Tamworth
  • Sydenham
  • South Frontenac
  • Sharbot Lake
  • Stirling
  • Tweed
  • Madoc
  • Bancroft
  • Kaladar

According to Environment Canada, widespread smoke should move in over Kingston by noon on Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023.

For a list of spaces open to the public, both to cool down in the heat and seek respite from the smoke, see our list of cool down locations and our list of smoke relief sites through the City of Kingston.

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