B.C. Forest Fires Cause Record Poor Air Quality Levels

Posted on August 21, 2018

Smoke from forest fires in British Columbia over the past two weeks have caused an unusually high number of days of poor air quality in the local region. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a measure of air quality that people are exposed to and it is rated at a low, moderate, high or very high risk to health. AQHI ratings exceeded the very high range on three separate days. August 18 was the worst, with very high ratings exceeding 15 at many stations. See the report for August 13-19.

Collectively, our 10 continuous air monitoring stations reported exceedances over provincial objectives at record levels during the past two weeks. From August 7, when smoke began to impact the local area, to August 18, there were 675 exceedances recorded by Fort Air Partnership in the Airshed. August 15 alone had 161 exceedances.

Almost all of these exceedances were caused by high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is a respirable particulate that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. From August 7-18, there were 600 exceedances of the provincial PM2.5 one hour objective, nearly five times the previous high of 121 exceedances recorded in 2016 caused by smoke from Fort McMurray and Northwest Territories fires that year.

While the smoke in the air has cleared recently, on-going fires and wind conditions may cause smoke to return. Health authorities advise that when the AQHI is elevated, particularly at the high and very high level, at risk populations such as those with respiratory conditions, children and the elderly avoid, reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities. Anyone experiencing coughing or throat irritation should consider reducing or rescheduling their strenuous outdoor activities.

People can track current and forecast AQHI ratings by visiting the home page of our website.