To call it smoky in southern Manitoba is a bit of an understatement, but the current air quality conditions may be more serious than you think.
Dr. Peter Benoit, public health physician with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), told 680 CJOB that the smoke in the air — caused by forest fires happening throughout the province and in other parts of the country — is currently at the highest risk level of the air quality health index.
“There’s something called the air quality health index, which has a scale from 1 to 10 and gives us an idea of what the risk is,” said Benoit.
“Right now, unfortunately, we’re at a 10-plus, which is the very high category.”
The index, Benoit said, has two categories — one for the at-risk population and one for the generally healthy population, but at this point, even for healthy people, staying indoors might be the best course of action.
“Even for the healthy population, at this level of risk, we would recommend people reduce or reschedule strenuous activities, particularly if they’re experiencing any symptoms like coughing or throat irritation… we’d want them to get inside.”
Benoit said those at highest risk are young children, the elderly and people with chronic conditions. People in those categories should take extra caution, particularly on a day like this when the risk is very high.
“Young children, they breathe more quickly than we do. They take more breaths per minute and they can breathe in more smoke, and that’s one of the reasons we like to keep them indoors, keep the windows closed and try to avoid that smoke exposure as much as we can.”
According to Environment Canada, the smoke is expected to persist through Tuesday with “very poor air quality at times,” before improving somewhat on Wednesday as winds push the smoke north.
“Due to the smoky conditions, individuals living in or travelling to the above noted areas are advised to be aware of potential health concerns that can be associated with current air conditions,” Environment Canada said in a statement.
Neil Johnston of the Lung Association of Manitoba told 680 CJOB the smoke we can see isn’t actually the most dangerous aspect of the air quality.
“It’s the fine particular matter that’s 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller. That’s 1/30 of the diameter of a human hair. These fine particles are in the smoke and they penetrate into the lungs…. They actually make it through the lungs into the bloodstream and can circulate in the body and cause inflammation throughout the whole body,” he said.
“The larger particles that you can see, those are the ones that are causing problems with our eyes and throat and a bit of a cough and that sort of thing.
“It can affect, over time, people who are otherwise healthy — it’s that long-term inflammation caused by the small particles that can cause circulatory issues, heart issues and issues elsewhere in the body from the continuous inflammation.”