Experts in Metro Vancouver are calling for smoke and haze once again this summer, with wildfires appearing to target B.C.’s southwest.
The BC Wildfire Service is predicting the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, as well as up north, to be the summer’s hotspots because of higher temperatures and a likelihood of drought.
Metro Vancouver’s air quality team suspects ongoing advisories in the coming months, as fine particulate matter and concentrated low ozone meet the stagnant and hot air drifting from the fire zones in the Interior.
Air quality advisories were issued on 22 days last July and August in Metro Vancouver, air quality engineer Francis Ries told reporters on Tuesday. Nineteen were issued the year before.
Ozone is a pollutant that can mix with fine particulate matter – which can come from vehicle emissions and burning wildfires – and causes difficulty breathing, as well as irritating symptoms similar to allergies and more serious concerns such as lung damage. Hot weather expedites the compilation of ozone.
What does it looks like to the human eye? Hazy and smoky skies.
Wildfire seasons in past has accounted for that big jump in grey bars over the years, as you see in this graph. The grey is elevated ozone and high concentrations of fine particulate matter. If you want to get really into the science, this link is for you: https://t.co/oL6vVnZexD pic.twitter.com/YQm7sX4hbq
— Ashley Wadhwani (@ashwadhwani) June 18, 2019
During the past two summers, the air quality team has seen unprecedented ozone levels, Ries said. Mechanisms used to measure air quality levels include the mobile air monitoring unit, a truck that allows staff to move through the region to get quick and easy measurements.
“We’ve seen high ozone levels at monitoring stations which we would never, under normal conditions, have high ozone (levels),” Ries said, specifically in western regions of the Fraser Valley and in Burnaby.
“The pollutants in the wildfire smoke are very likely having an impact on that.”
Despite an increase in wildfire smoke, Metro Vancouver does anticipate that air quality is actually set to improve by 2035.
In its annual Caring for the Air report released in early June, staff estimated that greenhouse gas emissions will drop by as much as 35 per cent, while smog-forming emissions could decrease by 10 per cent.
How to prepare for smoky skies
The BC Centre for Disease Control has created new tips and online material for people at risk of breathing problems.
Tips include purchasing a portable air cleaner that uses HEPA filtration to remove smoke from indoor air, and knowing where to find cleaner air in your community, such as at libraries or in shopping malls.
People with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, as well as pregnant women, infants and the elderly are more sensitive to smoke and should minimize their exposure.