Smoky air leading to hundreds of kids sports cancellations in Edmonton each week

Click to play video: 'Smoky air leading to hundreds of kids sports cancellations in Edmonton each week'
Smoky air leading to hundreds of kids sports cancellations in Edmonton each week
The smoky conditions in Edmonton is leading to hundreds of cancellations of sports games and other outdoor activities week after week. As Lisa MacGregor reports, it's all up in the air day by day – Jun 12, 2023

For several weeks now, kids sports games in Edmonton have been smoked out.

The Edmonton Minor Soccer Association (EMSA) normally plays more than 1,100 games a week but lately, more have been cancelled than have gone ahead due to smoke from wildfires burning across the province.

“You got to cancel games, you got to reschedule games, last week we cancelled just about 600 games in one week,” EMSA president Mario Charpentier said.

Charpentier said it has been a nightmare dealing with the smoky conditions day by day, cancelling and rescheduling.

“The air quality on the north side which is ok, but it’s not ok on the south side — emails, phone calls and texts from parents upset,” Charpentier said.

Environment Canada has had special air quality statements in effect for much of Alberta since last week due to the wildfire smoke, which doesn’t just smell bad — it’s full of fine particulate matter that can be hazardous to health.

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Click to play video: 'Wildfire smoke hazes skies across Canada and U.S.'
Wildfire smoke hazes skies across Canada and U.S.

Alberta Health measures the air quality health index (AQHI) on a scale of 1 to 10, with higher numbers representing greater health risk.

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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.

EMSA’s policy is if the air quality health index is seven or above at 4 p.m., the game will be cancelled.

Even if it’s below, it can still end up getting cancelled by referees or coaches at game time if conditions worsen.

“When it’s seven or eight, it’s dangerous. It’s bad for everybody. Then we just don’t do it. Now how we make up the game?”

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The cancellations because of smoke are becoming the new reality in Alberta. It’s a problem many people, like Charpentier, aren’t certain how to fix.

“Last year we had the same problem and this year it’s worse,” Charpentier said.

It’s leaving more questions about what next year could bring.

Meanwhile the City of Edmonton’s policy is to shut down outdoor programming if the AQHI is at seven or above but they do not automatically cancel programs due to weather.

In a statement to Global News, the City of Edmonton said: “Interpreters running programs at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, John Janzen Nature Centre, and John Walter Museum will arrange their tours to prioritize time indoors and limit time spent outside. There have been no attractions field trip cancellations yet this week or last due to air quality concerns.”

As for construction, the city said safety protocols provide direction for each project but so far there have been no delays due to the poor air quality.

The Edmonton Public and Catholic School boards both said on days when the air quality health index is seven or higher, it’s recommended students be kept indoors with windows closed.

That same policy applies to cancelling outdoor field trips.

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On Monday afternoon, the AQHI in Edmonton was at an eight. By Tuesday, it was expected to drop down to a four.

According to Environment Canada, an AQHI value of 10+ is usually due to very high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5.

The value is the highest risk category and can’t go any higher although air pollution and health risks may increase.

Environment Canada says a 10+ value means “everyone’s health is at risk” and recommends taking precautions and following the advice of health officials.

Fine-particle pollution can irritate the lungs and the particles are the “right size” to get past our upper airway defences and into the lungs, according to Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist in Waterbury, Conn.

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— With files from Eric Stober, Global News

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