Understanding the health impact of the 2023 Canadian Wildfires and how air cleaners can help

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The 2023 Canadian wildfires have made history as the most severe wildfire season to date, affecting all eleven provinces and territories. The wildfires have been particularly devastating in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec, with as many as 2,214 fires consuming 43,000 square kilometres (10,600,000 acres) by June 5th. On June 6, the count of active wildfires stood at 413, with 249 of them declared “out of control.”

The wildfire smoke has caused widespread disruption, with events cancelled and flights grounded across the US and Canada. The smoke has severely compromised air quality throughout the North American continent, with data from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) showing that North American cities had the world’s worst air quality on June 8th.
In response to these alarming conditions, Environment Canada advises anyone outdoors to wear a mask. Similarly, in New York, public health officials have urged residents to limit outdoor exercise and exposure to the smoke due to the immediate and long-term health risks.

The health risks associated with wildfire smoke are significant. The smoke contains fine particulate matter (PM2.5), tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and even enter the bloodstream. The health implications include:

1. Respiratory Problems: Wildfire smoke can aggravate conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), leading to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
2. Cardiovascular Effects: The fine particles in wildfire smoke can trigger inflammation, increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems.
3. Eye and Nose Irritation: Exposure to smoke can cause eye and nasal irritation, leading to symptoms like redness, watering, itching, congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
4. Aggravation of Existing Health Conditions: People with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, the elderly, children, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, which can exacerbate symptoms and lead to severe complications.
5. General Health Issues: Prolonged exposure to smoke can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating.

One effective way to reduce exposure to harmful particles in indoor air is to use an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters are designed to capture particles as small as 0.3 microns, effectively trapping most of the fine particles present in wildfire smoke. Using an air purifier can create a cleaner indoor environment, reducing your exposure to smoke particles and potentially mitigating some of the associated health effects.

However, while air purifiers can significantly improve indoor air quality, they may not eliminate all pollutants, especially if the air is continuously infiltrating from outdoors. It’s crucial to also take additional measures to minimise exposure, such as keeping windows and doors closed, using weather stripping to seal gaps, and following local health guidelines and evacuation orders if necessary.

At airmid healthgroup, we specialise in assessing the performance of air purifiers against various contaminants, including fine test dust, airborne viruses, bacteria, and mould. If you’re interested in testing the effectiveness of your air purifier, contact us at info@airmidhealthgroup.com or visit our website at www.airmidhealthgroup.com.

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