As Metro Vancouver continues its fine particulate matter advisory for the seventh day in a row, health officials warn locals to reduce their exposure to smoke and seek cleaner air.
The advisory has been in effect since Sept. 8 for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District due to wildfire smoke from outside the region. Wildfire smoke from fires in Washington and Oregon has moved northward into the region and is forecast to impact air quality today and into the week.
Metro Vancouver currently has an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) ranking of 10, or Very High, which indicates members of the at-risk population, including the elderly and children, should avoid strenuous activities and physical exertion outdoors. Members of the general population are advised to reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.
Exposure to fine particulate matter is particularly a concern for people with underlying conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and/or diabetes, individuals with respiratory infections such as COVID-19, pregnant women and infants, children, and older adults. Individuals who are socially marginalized may also be at elevated risk.
For a way to comprehend the effects of the wildfire smoke, an app called Sh**t! I Smoke converts air quality into the number of cigarettes a person will 'smoke' in a day simply by breathing the air.
Here in Vancouver, things are not looking good. According to the app, locals will smoke a staggering 8.3 cigarettes merely by breathing the air outside.
Of course, things could always be worse. In Medford, Jackson County, where the New York Times says firefighters continue to battle the South Obenchain Fire, "which had already burned 30,500 acres, most of it wilderness, and destroyed 26 homes," the air quality is equivalent to smoking a whopping 11.4 cigarettes daily.
The app, created by Brazilian-born designer Marcelo Coelho and Paris-born app developer Amaury Martiny, was inspired by Berkely Earth's findings about the equivalence between air pollution and cigarette smoking. According to the data, one cigarette per day (24 hr) is the rough equivalent of a PM2.5 level of 22ug/m3.
The creators admit note that there have been a few surprising results in the data, such as large cities with better air quality than small villages, or stations in the same towns showing significantly different numbers. However, they say that air quality depends on myriad factors - temperature, pressure, wind, etc - that may alter the data. In such instances, users should consult other resources, such as the World Air Quality Index and OpenAQ for more information.
- With files from Lindsay William-Ross.