Smoky skies covered the Okanagan. This is the view from Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park in the summer of 2017. (Jennifer Smith/Morning Star)

The Smokanagan, Part two: Physical health effects

“Smoke is much more dangerous than dust, no question.”

The last couple of years have been particularly bad for smoky skies in the Okanagan.

Research showed that more than 12,000 square kilometres of B.C. landscape went up in flames last year, making it the worst wildfire season on record. Conversations surrounding the topic have lowly begun ramping up as B.C. prepares for warmer weather, many expecting the wildfire trend to continue for the third summer in a row.

Michael Mehta is a professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops working in the department of Geography and Environmental studies. He has been studying the physical effects and health risks of air pollution for over a decade.

“Particularly because of the last two years with the smoke, attention to air pollution and its health and psychological effects have heightened — and for good reason,” he said. “We now know that over 90 per cent of the people on the planet are not breathing safe air according to the World Health Organization and this problem has been steadily mounting. It’s a combination of natural phenomenons like wildfires and forest fires but it’s also, of course, due to various industrial practices, transportation and rapid increase in residential wood burning practices.”

Related: The Smokanagan, Part One: How wildfire smoke affects children

While dust advisories are also an issue during the spring, — especially in Vernon — he confirmed that the size of smoke particles caused by wildfires and wood burning practices, are a much bigger concern.

“Smoke is much more dangerous than dust, no question.”

He explained that this is due to the size of particulates. Dust particles are usually in the PM 10 range, meaning they are 10 microns in size. Mehta said that these are relatively large sized particles, and are not fully respirable. While they do cause health issues, they don’t move through your bloodstream in the same way smaller particles do. In contrast, smoke-sized particles are usually in the PM 2.5 range, meaning they are respirable and cause bigger issues. After being inhaled, they can move through the bloodstream and congregate in organ’s tissues. He also noted that these sized particles can move into the brain and cross the blood-brain barrier, creating additional health problems.

While he said that there isn’t much residents can do to prevent these air pollution, there are steps that individuals, governments and health authorities can take to minimize risk.

“At the level of government and regulators like Interior Health, there needs to be a lot more transparent and honest communication of the health risks because they are certainly downplaying the risk of these exposures for fear of creating a panic,” he said. “I’ve been mostly at odds with government on these issues mostly because my perspective on this is that these are real short-term risks and they don’t tend to admit that, and secondly, provincial air quality monitoring system is fairly skinny.”

Noting that the provincial government typically only has one centralized air quality monitor per city, he encourages people — especially those from rural communities — to invest in PurpleAir monitors, a proven air quality monitoring solution, for more accurate air quality information throughout communities.

“If you just relied on the provincial sensors in cities like here and across the province, you might get the false impression that everything is fine, and it might be at that central location, but somewhere down road, several kilometers away, maybe 1,000 metres higher or lower elevation, it could be significantly different,” Mehta said.

“What I’ve been finding with my work is that because of wood burning practices, slash burning and farmers who burn fields, air pollution in rural communities is significantly worse than cities in British Columbia. It’s much worse and that’s a problem because [the government] isn’t monitoring it, they’re ignoring it.”

He encouraged local school boards, community groups, and media to start encouraging people to protect themselves when there is an advisory. To prevent exposure to dangerous air, in addition to PurpleAir monitors, he suggests people invest in a good quality HEPA filtration system, and to avoid going outdoors during air advisories. If people need to go outside, he suggests using a face mask. Despite recent debates as to whether or not they work, he is adamant that they do.

“There’s not a lot we can do to prevent poor air quality but there are other things we can do individually to protect ourselves and I really encourage people to take those steps to protect their health.”

(This is the second article in a series on air quality inthe region.)

Related: Vernon dust advisory continued

Related: Okanagan air quality to deteriorate again

To report a typo, email:
newstips@vernonmorningstar.com
.



Follow me on Twitter @BrieChar
Email me brieanna.charlebois@vernonmorningstar.com
Like us on Facebook.

Just Posted

City’s only female firefighter feels at home with Salmon Arm crew

Apprentice machinist Kelsey Gorgichuk joined department to give back to community

Survey: Salmon Arm houses cheaper to buy than many towns in B.C.

Only places with lower average price per square foot in study were northern communities

Ogopogo and Shuswaggi aren’t the only lake monsters to have legendary status

While both have legend status in the Okanagan-Shuswap regions there are said to be more

Video: All ages rally in Salmon Arm to demand climate action

More than 150 people make their way from Ross Street Plaza to city hall for rousing speeches

Shuswap elementary school suspends operations due to ‘musty odour’

Arrangements made for affected Sicamous students to attend class in three other schools

PHOTOS: Young protesters in B.C. and beyond demand climate change action

Many demonstaers were kids and teens who skipped school to take part

Walmart to quit selling e-cigarettes amid vaping backlash

U.S.’s largest retailer points to ‘growing’ complications in federal, state and local regulations

Column: Wildlife encounters in my own backyard

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere

Climate protesters temporarily shut down road in downtown Kelowna

Protesters are demanding politicans take action to stop climate change

Letter: Signs of oxygen depletion all around us

Writer considers effects of increased C02 levels

Security footage shows grab and go of cash in South Okanagan business break-in

Marla Black is asking for the public’s help in identifying the man who broke into Winemaster

Vehicle taken by gunpoint in South Okanagan carjacking recovered

Penticton RCMP said the criminal investigation remains very active and ongoing

Former B.C. lifeguard gets house arrest for possession of child porn

Cees Vanderniet of Grand Forks will serve six months of house arrest, then two years’ probation

Crown alleges resentment of ex-wife drove Oak Bay father to kill his daughters

Patrick Weir alleged in his closing arguments that Andrew Berry is responsible for the deaths of his daughters

Most Read