Smoke causes air quality to hit top of health risk scale in Calgary

WATCH ABOVE: Health officials are saying the air quality has never been this bad in Calgary as the city continues to be shrouded in smoke. Global’s Gary Bobrovitz.

CALGARY – An air quality advisory remained in effect for Calgary Tuesday as smoke from western wildfires continued to drift into southern Alberta. Environment Canada said the air quality in the city was rated at 11 Tuesday morning– which is at the top of Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and considered a very high health risk.

Alberta Health Services said from 8 a.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Tuesday there were 23 calls to Health Link about air quality from the Calgary zone. There was a “very slight increase” in visits to emergency departments for cardiac and respiratory complaints, with about 20 more visits Monday than the baseline seen daily over the previous week, said an AHS spokesperson. AHS couldn’t confirm the visits were due to air quality, but said the visits were for symptoms that can be associated with air pollution.

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Watch below: Take a look at the difference between Calgary’s skies on Aug. 5 and a very smoky Aug. 25.

A fire ban was also in effect for the city to minimize any more smoke adding to the poor air quality. The Calgary Fire Department said the ban prohibits the use of fire pits, recreational camp fires, and other wood burning devices, such as fire places, in a release Tuesday afternoon. The fire ban will remain in effect until further notice.

“I think if your child has asthma and there is a scheduled outdoor sport, you may want to consider keeping them inside,” said Alberta Children’s Hospital pediatric respirologist Dr. Mark Anselmo.

Calgary Olympic Sport staff were modifying mountain biking and sport/adventure camp schedules so the 600 or so camp kids were only outside for 20 minutes at a time, according to a Winsport spokesperson. Dale Oviatt said camps were using “indoor opportunities to teach things like bike repair and maintenance” and that hill climbing was removed from Tuesday’s schedule.

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GlobalFest said Tuesday evening’s Spanish fireworks would proceed as the air quality rating was expected to drop to a rating of seven, and the Calgary Fire Department said fireworks are excluded from the current fire ban.

“GlobalFest will have masks available for purchase at the First Aid Tent by RONA VIP Gate, and eye wash stations readily available at Elliston Park,” said organizers in a statement.

The people most at risk in poor air quality conditions are children, the elderly, anyone with respiratory or heart problems, and people who work outside.

Cody Coates / Global News

During times of poor air quality, the province suggests people reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities, and asks residents not to use backyard fire pits or fire boxes in parks.

WATCH: The smoke in Calgary is making life difficult for those living with asthma or other respiratory diseases, and they are being asked to stay indoors until conditions improve. Global’s Heather Yourex-West reports.

To reduce exposure to the current poor air conditions, AHS suggests the following:

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  • Reduce presence of smoke in indoor environments:
    • Close and lock all outside windows and doors, including attached garage doors.
    • Turn down furnace thermostats and furnace fans to the minimum setting. Do not attempt to extinguish pilot light.
    • If you have an air conditioner, keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
    • Avoid running fans, such as “whole-house fans” or “fresh air ventilation systems” that bring more smoky outdoor air inside.
    • Switch all floor registers to closed position.
    • Close fire place dampers on wood burning fireplaces.
    • Do not use wood burning fireplaces, wood stoves or other smoke-producing appliances or features, including candles.
  • If you must drive to another location, keep windows and vents closed. Run car fans on re-circulate mode to avoid drawing in outdoor air.
  • Reduce levels of physical activity, as necessary, to decrease the inhalation of airborne pollutants.
  • Do not smoke tobacco – smoking puts added stress on your lungs and those around you.

For more information on the current air quality health risks, visit the Government of Alberta’s website. Anyone with symptoms can also call Health Link at 811 to speak to a registered nurse.

The Washington wildfire is burning about four and a half kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border, near Grand Forks and Christina Lake in southern B.C.

READ MORE: Smoke brings B.C. air quality advisories

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