Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change have issued a Special Air Quality Statement for the Eastern Ontario region, as smoke from wildfires is causing poor air quality. The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) is advising residents to avoid strenuous outdoor activities while the statement is in effect, as they may cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath. Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations.
When the air quality is poor, everyone is at risk. However, health risks are greater for infants, children and teenagers, seniors, pregnant individuals, people with lung ailments or heart disease, smokers, people experiencing homelessness and people who spend long periods of time outdoors (including those who work or exercise in the heat). When the AQHI reaches level 7 or higher (high to very high risk level), you should take precautions for yourself and those in your care.
- If you belong to a high-risk group or have breathing difficulties, stay inside. Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated. Keep windows and doors closed.
- Use air-conditioning or a portable air filter if available. If it is hot and you don’t have air-conditioning, consider going to a public place that is air-conditioned (e.g. library, shopping mall, recreation centre).
- Avoid spending time outdoors. If you must go outside, a well-fitted respirator type mask, such as an N95, can help reduce your health risk, especially if you are at high risk. However, masks may not fully protect you from poor air quality.
- Limit your exposure to busy roads or heavily trafficked areas.
- Stop or reduce your activity level if breathing becomes uncomfortable or if you feel unwell.
- Have an adequate supply of medication (more than 5 days) and develop a plan together with your health care provider for how to manage your condition during periods of poor air quality. If you have been prescribed ‘rescue’ medications (e.g. asthma medications) make sure that they are easily available.
- Check on people in your care and those around you who may be more susceptible to smoke.
- Seek medical attention if you develop severe symptoms.
Potential health effects of poor air quality include eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing and wheezing, worsening of symptoms for those who have lung diseases (e.g. asthma, COPD), difficulty breathing, reduced lung capacity, lowered resistance to infections, increased heart and lung conditions, increase in visits to the emergency room and hospital admissions, and premature death.
Note that air quality can change or deteriorate quickly. Please pay close attention to the local Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) reports at www.airqualityontario.com/aqhi/index.php, and follow any recommendations listed for your area. We also strongly recommend that you subscribe to Air Quality Ontario to receive air quality alerts.This will allow you to respond quickly to follow the provided recommendations, especially when AQHI levels are 7+ (high or very high health risk). You can subscribe here: www.airqualityontario.com/alerts/signup.php.
For more information, visit www.EOHU.ca/heat or call 613-933-1375 or 1-800-267-7120.