TODAY'S FORECAST: 31C
AIR QUALITY FORECAST: 6
Anyone with heart and breathing problems may want to postpone outdoor physical activity because air pollutants in Nanaimo reached record levels this week.
The Ministry of Environment issued an air quality advisory for Vancouver Island's east coast, stretching from Nanaimo to Campbell River, because of high particulate concentrations that are expected to persist until Friday afternoon. The ongoing heat wave and smoke pollutants funnelling in from Interior forest fires put more smog into the region and reduced air quality, according to an analyst from the province's Environment Ministry.
B.C. air quality monitors kept a watchful eye on Nanaimo and Campbell River yesterday as the air quality health index showed both regions were experiencing a Level 6 rating.
Those same experts issued an air quality advisory for Victoria late Wednesday when that region had a Level 6 rating with expectations that the situation could get worse. They cancelled the warning yesterday morning when pollution levels dropped.
Nanaimo's rating should be a warning to anyone with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies and emphysema, but the general population should be OK, according to Mark Graham, head of the ministry's air and water quality monitoring and reporting.
"Typically we don't get these numbers, but it's an unusual time in the province," he said.
"We do get up to (Level 4s) occasionally, but we haven't got to a (Level 5) in Nanaimo since (Environment Canada) started the air quality health index."
The air quality index considers three different pollutants before determining the health risk.
These pollutants include particulate matter (smoke or black carbon in the air), ground-level ozone (formed when sunlight cooks emissions in the air) and nitrogen dioxide (from fossil fuel combustion).
Nanaimo is primarily feeling the impact of smoke pollutants and ground-level ozone, according to Graham.
Anyone experiencing trouble breathing in this heat wave should consider that a symptom and reduce their physical activity, said Dr. Fred Rockwell, community health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
"At this point, even at the predicted Level 6, we aren't advising anything other than to limit activity, if it bothers you," he explained.
Levels 8 and 9 would be a high risk at which point officials would warn people to stay indoors, according to Metro Vancouver air quality planner Laurie Bates-Frymel. The air quality index predicted a Level 8 for some parts of the Lower Mainland for late Thursday.
There can be long-term effects when air quality levels increase, but the current heat wave does not constitute long-term exposure and levels should decrease when temperatures drop off.
The ministry suggests ways to reduce unhealthy exposure: Try to avoid heavy vehicle traffic; get room air cleaners, if you want to reduce particulate indoors; and seek shelter in air-conditioned buildings. People should also try to reduce emissions by staying out of their vehicles, if possible.
AIR QUALITY RATINGS
LOW RISK LEVEL, 1-3: Ideal conditions for outdoor activities
MODERATE RISK LEVEL, 4-6: Reduce physical activity if you have heart and breathing problems
HIGH RISK LEVEL, 7-10 HIGH: Children, elderly should also reduce activity
VERY HIGH RISK LEVEL, 10 : Everyone should consider reducing physical exertion and strenuous activity
-- Environment Canada
Air quality ratings for B.C. cities as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
Fraser Valley: 4-5
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