Wildfire smoke moving over the London region from forest fires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario has led to 'high levels of air pollution,' Environment Canada alerted in a statement early Wednesday.

The public is urged to take actions to protect their health and reduce exposure to smoke. Even in low concentrations, the wildfire smoke can be harmful to health, the statement read.

"What that means for Londoners is to try and limit your outdoor activities as much as possible because with that poor air quality comes health risks," said Katrina Eyk, senior meteorologist with Environment Canada.

People with lung disease such as asthma or heart disease are at higher risk of experiencing health effects along with older adults, children, pregnant people and people who work outdoors. 

Julie Brown, the coordinator of the respiratory therapist program at Fanshawe College told CBC News Wednesday that people should avoid doing strenuous activities outdoors in the smoky air. 

"Especially those with any respiratory or cardiac disorders, no chronic lung disease, asthma, chronic heart disease. Those people really need to make sure that they're staying indoors as much as possible."

She said if people who are vulnerable to respiratory ailments have to go outside, they should consider masking up as they did during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You could put on one of those old, you know, N 95 masks that we were wearing for COVID. Those can help to at least filter some of those particles [from the smoke]."

"That's what's causing the issues with the breathing and the eyes and you know, getting into our bodies through any of those areas and causing cough, burning eyes, trouble breathing."

Brown said the long-term effects of the smoky air depend on the length of exposure and the degree of physical activity. As an example, she said, someone running a half marathon would get far more exposure than someone moving between their house and car. 

Air quality and visibility can fluctuate and vary from hour to hour. The poor air quality could last into the weekend, Environment Canada said. 

There should be some relief for London by Saturday, when winds switch over and push smoke plumes back east, said Eyk.  However, it's possible smokes plumes could move in later in the summer as well. 

Environment Canada is advising the public to: 

  • Stop outdoor activities.
  • Contact your health care provider if you are experiencing shortness of breath, wheezing, severe coughs, dizziness or chest pains.
  • Stay inside if you are feeling unwell or experiencing symptoms.
  • Keep your indoor air clean. Keep doors and windows closed if the temperature in your home is comfortable.
  • Use an air purifier with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter if possible.
  • If you spend time outdoors, wear a well-fitted respirator mask to reduce exposure to the fine particles in smoke, but it will not protect against the gases in wildfire smoke.
  • Check on people in your care or around you who may be more susceptible to smoke.

It is important to listen to your body and reduce or stop activities if you are experiencing symptoms, Environment Canada said. 

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