Common sense more important than air quality advisories

"People should just be aware of the messaging and they should…use common sense." -Ralph Adams, air quality meteorologist.

It doesn’t take a scientist to recognize the Okanagan air has had a smoky scent recently.

With more than 100 active fires burning throughout the province as of Wednesday, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Interior Health issued a smoky skies advisory for the region.

The smoky skies advisory is a new type of public message being tested to improve communication on wildfire smoke. It is expected to be issued when smoke concentrations in an area have, or may, reach levels that are of concern for human health.

The new advisory differs from the wildfire smoke advisories issued by the Ministry of Environment, which are based primarily on concentrations of fine particulate matter measured over a 24-hour period at fixed monitoring stations in Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna.

The Okanagan, along with the entire Thompson, Fraser Canyon, Similkameen, Nicola, Boundary and Shuswap areas was included in Wednesday’s smoky skies advisory.

The notice warned people in those regions to avoid strenuous activities, adding exposure is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

Ralph Adams, air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of Environment, said it’s important for the public to be aware of the health concerns associated with poor air quality.

But, he added, they shouldn’t necessarily rely on advisories to determine whether or not they spend time outside.

“The whole point of this advisory is to get the message out that we are in summer. We appear to be going into a particularly bad fire season,” said Adams.

“Under these conditions, people should just be aware of the messaging and they should keep their eyes open and use common sense.

“Looking at websites and following the advisories going up and down, I think, (is) of secondary importance.”

The idea of the smoky skies advisory is to respond to the changing nature of wildfire smoke, which may not be well-characterized by existing air quality monitoring networks.

“After the forest fire season in 2010, it became apparent that the conventional wildfire smoke advisories were creating a number of problems.

“Because conditions change so rapidly, the advisories—because they’re based on 24-hour rolling averages—often don’t keep up with what people can see.”

Adams added it takes several hours to submit or remove an advisory; therefore, the online warnings weren’t always being posted in a timely matter.

Another reason for the smoky skies advisory is the wildfire smoke advisories only took in data from fixed monitoring stations in Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna; therefore, residents in smaller communities may have been confused whether or not they were included in the advisory.

The smoky skies advisories is expected to be taken down when smoky conditions have completely disappeared from the region.

“We don’t want to just sort of leave something (up) all summer…if we aren’t expecting smoke, we will drop it.”

Adams said this weekend’s predicted cooler temperatures could potentially cancel the current advisory; however, it is completely dependent on fire activity.

Twitter: @PatersonWade


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