The 2014 forest fire season was severe in western Canada. There was more than 360,000 hectares burned in BC and more than three million hectares burned in the Northwest Territories. These fires produce smoke that negatively affects air quality throughout the region.
The BC Centre for Disease Control has developed the BC Asthma Monitoring System (BCAMS) to help provincial medical health officers to better understand the impacts of smoke in real time. This system uses information from the air quality monitoring network, satellites, and BlueSky smoke forecasting system to assess smoke exposure throughout the province. It displays these data along with information about the number of asthma-related physician visits and pharmaceutical dispensations, and highlights days on which those numbers were unusually high.
Based on data from the air quality monitoring network there were 43 times when the daily average PM2.5 concentrations exceeded 25 μg/m3 in one of the provincial health service delivery areas during the fire season. In 56% of the cases the high PM2.5 concentrations were associated with an unusually high number of asthma-related physician visits, and in 70% of the cases they were associated with an usually high number of asthma-related pharmaceutical dispensations. Overall we found that days with measured concentrations exceeding 25 μg/m3 were most reliably associated with a measurable public health impact.
Forest fire smoke effects all of us. If you are living with asthma, take extra precaution when going outside during forest fire season and make sure to protect your lungs.