Forest fire prompts health warning

Time to hit the mall or other buildings with clean air for those with respiratory conditions

  • Sep. 6, 2011 12:00 p.m.

It’s time to shop—doctor’s orders.

The Environment Canada Air Quality Health Index has hit a rating of seven and the Interior Health Authority is recommending people pay attention to their breathing and, if necessary, head to cool places with filtered air, like shopping malls.

“For everybody, it’s probably worthwhile to reduce outside activities and for those who have pre-existing lung conditions it’s really important,” said Dr. Robert Parker, Interior Health Authority medical health officer.

Air quality is rated on an infinite scale known to reach up to 20 in places with extreme air pollution. Although the AQHI level is only at seven, it is still considered high and is definitely cause for concern, according to Parker.

Tuesday morning, Kelowna’s AQHI rating was only at three, despite the Westside wildfire reported the night before. But with an inversion keeping smoke in the valley, it rose rapidly to seven by mid-afternoon.

The main page of the Interior Health website ( offers a number of suggestions for those who might be struggling with breathing problems—generally those with pre-existing conditions like asthma, the very young and the elderly. It suggests seeking out filtered air, reducing activity levels and staying indoors if necessary.

Prolonged exposure to particulate matter,the air pollutants, can have an effect on both the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, Parker said.

Small particulate matter, that which is 2.5 microns or less, can be inhaled straight into the lungs causing inflammation of the pulmonary alveolus sacs within the lung and the lining of the airway. The larger particulate matter can get caught in a person’s throat and eyes causing further irritation.

“Both of these (forms of particulate) are out there in a forest fire, though the small ones cause most of the breathing problems,” said Parker.

In areas where air quality has been extremely poor for a prolonged period, the number of heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths increase as the smaller particles can go into the bloodstream causing swelling in the cardiovascular system.

Shopping malls are said to have some of the better air filtration systems.

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