Central Albertans urged to take precautions as air quality deteriorates

The forest fire smoke that blanketed the Red Deer region on Monday is expected to have a choke-hold on Central Alberta for most of the week.

The forest fire smoke that blanketed the Red Deer region on Monday is expected to have a choke-hold on Central Alberta for most of the week.

Poor air quality advisories for the area were issued by Alberta Health Services, as well as Environment Canada, after gusts of smoke started blowing northward from Washington State.

Area residents are being warned that health problems can result from the deteriorating air quality. It was already rated a “high risk” on the health index on Monday night.

Central Albertans may experience temporary eye and throat irritation and shortness of breath from prolonged exposure to smoky air, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, medical officer of health for Alberta’s Central Zone, stretching from south of Edmonton to Drumheller.

“We’re recommending to everybody that they reduce their exposure — but particularly those who are at higher risk,” she added.

The worst affects could be felt by those who are very young, very old, or who have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses, such as angina, heart conditions, asthma or emphysema.

Everyone is cautioned to stay indoors as much as possible if air quality remains poor.

To reduce smoke in indoor environments:

l Windows and doors should be shut, thermostats turned down and furnace fans set to a minimum setting (don’t extinguish pilot lights).

l Fresh-air intakes on air-conditioners should be closed and filters cleaned.

l Residents should avoid running fans or ventilations systems that bring outdoors air inside.

l Floor air registers and fireplace dampers should be closed, and wood burning fireplaces and wood stoves should not be used.

l Car fans should be run on the recirculated air mode.

Alberta Health Services is also advising Central Albertans to reduce outdoor physical activities to keep from breathing in smoky air.

Anyone with concerns about health symptoms can call Health Link 811 to speak to a registered nurse.

The air quality advisories will stay in effect until further notice.

No short-term change is expected in the local weather forecast, so the forest fire smoke could stay in the region until Friday, said Environment Canada meteorologist Bill McMurtry.

Whether the haze remains high in the atmosphere or poses more danger by descending to street level is “hard to predict,” he added. This will depend on temperature, as well as where the highest concentrations of polluted air happen to be lingering.

Hotter weather will likely mean poorer air quality, since cooler, smoky air from above will descend to fill the space vacated by rising hot air.

“The day-time heating brings smoke down and (poor air quality) becomes more concentrated,” said McMurtry.

The latest air quality information can be found at www.airquality.alberta.ca or by calling 1-877-247-7333.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com