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Wildfire fighters work in heavy smoke, and in Canada have little protection

After 13 seasons of fighting smoky wildfires in Ontario and B.C., Ian Sachs said his body started to feel the wear and tear.

"You're often in smoke. Even on a small initial attack, you're usually breathing smoke," Sachs said.

Sachs said outside of COVID, he was never offered any kind of respiratory protection. But, he's not sure there were any masks that would have worked well or held a tight seal in wildfire conditions.

Indeed, the environment of a wildland fire does make it harder to find a mask that works comfortably, and isn't too bulky to carry for long days and distances.

WATCH | No mandatory PPE for Canadian wildfire fighters, but some want change: 

Firefighters call for masks as they battle record-breaking wildfires

Still, with wildfire risk growing in Canada and firefighters facing elevated levels of cancer, some are unwilling to accept the status quo where there are no requirements for respiratory protection.

In Canada, more than 85 per cent of firefighter fatality claims are attributed to cancer, and research from numerous studies has shown firefighters are at high risk of a number of illnesses, including lung and breast cancer.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) says those same diseases are associated with wildfire smoke.

Neil McMillan, the director of science and research for the Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine Division of the IAFF, said his organization is concerned about the increased incidence, frequencies and severity of wildfires across Canada and the lack of specialized protective masks for those on the front lines. 

"Unfortunately, there isn't a great standard presently for firefighters that have to work in dynamic fire situations, in wildland and wildland urban interface settings in other places across the globe,"' said McMillan.

McMillan said the lack of personal protective equipment to lessen the exposure of wildfire fighters isn't a provincial problem but a national one, and the IAFF is encouraging all levels of government to invest in protecting firefighters. Read the full story here.

Cleanup duty

Two female tennis players help ball boys and ball girls clean confetti off a tennis court.

(Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

Tennis players Katie Boulter, left, of Britain, and Australia's Daria Saville help ball boys and ball girls pick up confetti thrown by a Just Stop Oil protester on court 18 during their first-round match at Wimbledon on Wednesday.

In brief

Grocery rebate cheques are landing in the bank accounts of Canadians but some people say it isn't nearly enough to tackle the problem of food insecurity and the rise in cost of living. Toronto resident Diane Lane says she received about $200 in her bank account Wednesday. While she's thankful for the help, she says it's only enough to keep her going, not get ahead. "I'm a senior, I live on old age pension, I pay market rent, I live alone and the food is taking everything I have," Lane, 70, told CBC News outside a Toronto Walmart. "It'll fill my freezer, I might be fine for maybe two months," she said. "And then I'll be right back to where I am right now." The federal government has billed the one-time payment as targeted inflation relief for some 11 million low- and modest-income households. But people like Lane say that while the rebate can ease difficulties temporarily, it falls short of tackling the issues underpinning food insecurity and the rising cost of living. Still, thousands of Canadians aren't covered under this new program, even if they're struggling to make due. Read the full story here.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says the federal government has suspended all of its advertising on Facebook and Instagram as it continues its battle over the Online News Act with tech giants Google and Meta. "Facebook has decided to be unreasonable, irresponsible and started blocking news," Rodriguez said Wednesday at a joint press conference with the NDP's Peter Julian and the Bloc Québécois' Martin Champoux. "Google, on the other hand, has been open to finding a solution." The federal government's Online News Act, C-18, became law on June 22. It compels companies like Google and Meta, Facebook and Instagram's parent company, to pay money to news organizations each time a user accesses a web story through a link on one of their products. The bill has been pitched as a way to keep news outlets solvent after advertising moved en masse to digital platforms, virtually wiping out a major revenue stream for journalism. Read the full story here.

Mikyla Grant-Mentis didn't think much of her scheduled Thursday night Zoom meeting, so the 2021 Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) MVP coached practice for the U-22 Brampton Canadettes girls hockey team, as she had planned. That arrangement, however, was soon upended. "Five minutes after the call started is when I got a bunch of text messages from people from my team last year saying, 'Holy crap, the league's over, they're terminating all our contracts,'" Grant-Mentis said. The Brampton, Ont., native quickly hopped off the ice to join the call, where she and the rest of the PHF learned that their league was being bought out and folded. Those players are now left to wrestle with the new reality that their hockey careers, successfully entrenched in a solid foundation just last week, are in complete limbo. In the PHF's place, there will be one professional North American women's hockey league with a collective bargaining agreement ratified by the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association — a group that held out from joining the PHF in its fight for sustainability. PHF players were informed that next year's contracts were void, and that they would receive severance of either $5,000 US or 1/12th of their salary, whichever is more. Read the full story here.

Beth Orcutt will never forget the moment she witnessed a baby octopus hatch in the deepsea. The marine scientist was co-leading a Schmidt Ocean Institute expedition to study the ocean's depths off Costa Rica using a remotely operated vehicle, when her team saw little mollusk emerge. They weren't looking for baby octopuses. In fact, until that moment, scientists weren't sure if it was possible for an octopus embryo to survive in such a seemingly inhospitable environment. "It was very, very exciting," Orcutt, a senior scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "The whole control room erupted in excitement." The expedition has confirmed the existence of two healthy octopus nurseries — one in an area called the Dorado Outcrop and another about 30 nautical miles away — where dozens of females gather together to brood their eggs near hydrothermal vents. The findings double the number of octopus nurseries known to scientists, challenge previous assumptions about how the creatures breed, and highlight the importance of underwater vents and seeps to the development of marine life. Read more on this story here.

LISTEN | Nil Köksal speaks with Beth Orcutt about the discovery: 

As It Happens6:30Scientists discover rare, thriving octopus nursery — and maybe a new species

Now here's some good news to start your Thursday: Over the last eight years, Markus Pukonen has been circumnavigating the globe, a trip of more than 73,000 kilometres, made without a plane, train or automobile. He didn't even ride an elevator. Pukonen, from Tofino, B.C., left Toronto in a canoe in July of 2015. He returned to Canada on July 2, 2023, on a bicycle, crossing the United States border at Niagara Falls. He described the entire journey as "amazing" and "unbelievable." Over the years, the 40-year-old says he hand-cycled, tricycled, skied, kayaked, paddleboarded, bicycled, sailed and walked his way first around Canada and then the planet. Read the story of his adventures here.

Front Burner: 'The Drugs Store,' safe supply and its backlash

In the wake of the overdose death of a Vancouver man who had recently opened a store selling tested cocaine and heroin, believing in the importance of a safe supply of drugs, we take a look at the state of safe supply policies and the backlash they're facing.

Front Burner24:23‘The Drugs Store,’ safe supply, and its backlash

Today in history: July 6

1885: French scientist Louis Pasteur tests an anti-rabies vaccine on a nine-year-old boy who had been bitten by an infected dog. He continued daily inoculations until July 16. The boy survived.

1906: The House of Commons passes the Lord's Day Observance Act to prohibit work, entertainment, sport and almost all commerce on Sundays. The law remained on the books until the Supreme Court of Canada struck it down in 1985.

1928: Lights of New York, the first all-talking motion picture, opens in New York City.

1957: Althea Gibson becomes the first Black tennis player to win a Wimbledon singles title, defeating fellow American Darlene Hard 6-3, 6-2.

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