Air quality advisory for Calgary currently set at very high risk – Daily Hive

Air quality advisory for Calgary currently set at \very high risk\ - Daily Hive
Fridays air quality forecast for Alberta amid wildfires
A man wears a bandana over his face as he walks along Centre Street in Calgary on Friday, May 31, 2019. Downtown is barely visible behind him, obscured by smoke from northern Alberta wildfires. Al Charest/Postmedia

For most of the day, the city registered a 10+ on the Air Quality Health Index, considered very high risk. A special air quality statement from Environment Canada, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services warned of symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches and shortness of breath due to the drifting wildfire smoke, which originated in the province’s north.

Edmonton Public Schools also keeps students indoors with the windows closed when Environment Canada issues an air quality rating at 7 or higher. Air conditions and HVAC air systems remain on, according to the school board’s policy.

It prompted the City of Calgary to cancel all scheduled outdoor activities and events taking place Friday if they could not be moved indoors. City athletic parks remained open, but it was up to individual sports leagues to determine if their activities would continue.

Watch below: The wildfire situation in northern Alberta appears to be intensifying. New images from the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement show the toll fire has already taken on their community. (Filed May 30, 2019).

Calgary Minor Soccer Association cancelled all of its Friday night games, and called on coaches to reschedule those games as they would for any inclement weather situation. The association promised to update parents by 11 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday for games scheduled for the following day.

Air quality conditions in Calgary and other parts of southern Alberta were much worse on Friday. Calgary’s AQHI level was a 10+ on Friday morning. That risk was forecast to remain very high into Friday night.

Video: Air quality peaks at Unhealthy

The association also chose to cancel its Minifest soccer festival on Saturday because of the uncertainty of the air quality. The group is hoping to reschedule the event and will provide more details when available.

Northern Alberta air qualityThe air quality was a bit better in parts of northern Alberta on Friday morning, but jumped to a 7 for Fort McKay. Fort McMurray was at 3 on Friday afternoon, while Cold Lake was at 2.

Despite the hazy conditions, other events taking place across the city this weekend were still scheduled to go ahead.

Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index is measured on a scale, ranging from 1 to 10+. Anything from 1-3 is considered a low risk, 4-6 is a moderate risk, 7-10 is a high risk and 10+ is very high risk.

The annual 4th Street Lilac Festival on Sunday will run “rain, shine, or now smoky,” organizers say, adding there would be a high-level presence of Calgary police and Alberta Health Services officials in case of emergency.

Calgary will also host Western Canada’s largest motorcycle street festival on Sunday. The event is scheduled to proceed despite the smoke.

By Friday, officials said the Chuckegg Creek fire near High Level, Alta., had grown to more than 2,300 square kilometres. Near Slave Lake, Alta., a separate fire had spread to more than 1,800 square kilometres, prompting officials to declare an eight-hour evacuation notice for the community. Slave Lake was the site of a devastating fire as recently as 2011.

Some animals at Calgary Zoo moved indoors amid heavy smoke

The status of the Calgary Humane Society’s “Dog Jog” on Saturday remained up in the air.

Phil Fulton, manager of community outreach, said the society would play it by ear and decide the morning of the event whether to proceed.

He said satellite images already showed wildfire smoke had drifted east to as far as Minnesota and into Ontario. However, that does not necessarily mean it poses a health threat. The heaviest blob of smoke is probably going to stay in the central part of the province where the fires are, he said.

“Safety of participants and the animals is our main priority,” he said. “This kind of smoke can exasperate dogs that are already at risk of heat stroke.”

Thick smoke from Alberta wildfires has reduced visibility in large cities and fouled air across much of the province this week, triggering health warnings and adding an urban dimension to a disaster that has already prompted scores of evacuations in northern communities and put many more on high alert.

“This would more severely affect dogs like … pugs, bulldogs, dogs with shorter snouts,” Fulton said. “If they’re overweight, that kind of thing, already have cardiovascular or airway abnormalities, just making sure that people are educated.”

According to Environment Canada’s Health Index, physical exertion and strenuous activities outdoors should be limited or avoided, especially for children, elderly and anyone with respiratory illnesses while the numbers are so high.

Animation on FireSmoke.ca shows the anticipated spread of smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta from Friday to Sunday. By Sunday, the heaviest concentration of smoke is forecast to move out of the Calgary region. Courtesy FireSmoke.ca

Environment Canada’s air quality health index scale, with 1 being a “low” health risk up to 10+ which is a “very high” health risk.

The Calgary Zoo said it was taking “extra precautions” to ensure the health and safety of its animals, with some animals kept inside Friday.

Calgary’s air quality was so poor on Friday that it was worse than some of the most polluted cities in the world, with a separately calculated Air Quality Index rating of 306 as of 8 a.m. Mountain time.

The smoke travelled farther south, prompting Environment Canada to expand special air quality statements to include the entire southern portion of Alberta.

Considered “hazardous,” that rating was worse than both Delhi and Beijing, which each ranked in the top 10 most polluted capital cities across the globe in the 2018 World Air Quality Report.

Large sections of northern Alberta are being consumed by wildfires and almost every day has brought new advisories and orders.

School principals were asked by the Calgary Board of Education to avoid strenuous activities for students and to consider indoor lunch and recess on Friday.

Looking south across the Centre Street bridge, smoke shrouds downtown Calgary on Friday. Al Charest/Postmedia

For schools within the Calgary Catholic School District, all outdoor activities were cancelled and students were kept inside. Students would also be monitored for symptoms of poor air quality, such as irritated eyes, increased mucus production in the nose or throat, coughing or difficulty breathing, the school district stated.

Without a favourable forecast, some northern Albertans are trusting other forces to guide them through what has become two weeks of extreme wildfire conditions. 8

Karla Gustafson, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, said the most common symptoms some might experience during the smoke include irritation to the eyes or throat. Additionally, those with pre-existing health conditions might notice that their symptoms are aggravated or amplified.

However, Gustafson said it’s difficult to measure the long-term effects of consistent exposure over time.

The smoke is anticipated clear to out of the Edmonton region through Saturday morning and skies will be much clearer Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

“It’s hard to gauge these acute wildfire smoke effects, the impacts of those, and correlating that with other exposure to air pollution that happens in an ongoing way,” she explained.

It warned that people with lung diseases can be particularly sensitive to air pollution, which can aggravate their conditions and lead to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits and hospital visits. Those with breathing difficulties were advised to stay inside, and if possible, to find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated.

Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease such as asthma are encouraged to avoid strenuous activities outdoors in the smoky conditions.

For schools within the Calgary Catholic School District, all outdoor activities were cancelled and students were kept inside. Students would also be monitored for symptoms of poor air quality such as irritated eyes, increased mucus production in the nose or throat, coughing or difficulty breathing, the school district stated.

Those with lung diseases can be particularly sensitive to air pollution, which can aggravate their conditions and lead to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits and hospital visits. People with breathing difficulties were advised to stay inside, and if possible, to find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated.

Karla Gustafson, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, said the most common symptoms some might experience during the smoke include irritation to the eyes or throat. Additionally, those with pre-existing health conditions might notice that their symptoms are aggravated or amplified.

AHS said the smoke didn’t seem to cause a surge in hospital visits Friday, despite an increased number of calls through its Health Link service.

A special air quality statement from Environment Canada, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services warned of symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches and shortness of breath due to the drifting wildfire smoke which originated in the province’s north.

“I don’t see a big push in clearing this stuff out until probably early next week,” said Dan Kulak of Environment Canada, noting a change in wind flow is expected early next week for the southern part of the province.

Last summer, Calgary broke a record for the number of smoky hours within the city as wildfire smoke from B.C. blew east throughout much of August.

"We have a couple of animals that are very sensitive to smoke," said Matt Korhones, curator at the Calgary Zoo. "Birds and reptiles, these are animals that tend to be a little more sensitive to environmental change."

“Every year’s got its own personality,” said Kulak, commenting on how common it is for smoke to fill the skies this early in the year. “It just depends on how many fires go.”

Homicide detectives are investigating after a vehicle was found parked on the shoulder of Stoney Trail near the bridge above the Bow River on Friday and two people were found dead at the scene.

According to experts, Prairie provinces will see a longer fire season, in addition to more frequent wildfires, heat and drought in the coming years, as a direct result of climate change.

"Animals at the zoo, for them this is no different than any other day. We have our native wildlife moving around right now that are doing fine."

“On average, we’re going to see a lot more fire and a lot more smoke, but not necessarily every year,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor with the department of renewable resources at the University of Alberta.

The Air Quality Health Index was rated at 10+ Friday which is considered to be very high risk and a serious concern for the health of people and animals.

“This is due to human-caused climate change; in particular, warming. The warmer we get, the more fire we see.”

Despite the smoke, Korhones said the zoo would remain open, but staff have specific policies and protocols in place to monitor their animals.

Projected warmer and drier conditions across the country mean an extended fire season, and more lightning, which also equals more fire, said Flannigan.

Calling it the “new reality,” he said fire is unavoidably part of the province’s future. Since the early 1970s, Canada’s area burned has doubled.

People in the Grande Prairie region are dealing with poor air quality and reduced visibility Thursday morning. In a special statement, Environment Canada says it’s due to smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta.

While it’s already been a more active year than usual for wildfire activity in Alberta, Flannigan said it’s not uncommon for fire season to start this early, as May is typically the busiest month for burns within the province.

Longer lasting periods of weather stagnations — those without rain — have already had an effect on neighbouring regions in recent years.

“Catastrophic fires in California, record-breaking seasons in 2017 and 2018 in B.C., were largely due to this stagnate pattern with the high pressure over the west coast,” Flannigan said.

He said the rest of the fire season in the province, which could be “historic,” will depend on weather patterns and the amount of rain that falls in Alberta.

“It’s going to take a lot of rain to put these suckers out,” he said. “These fires will probably burn for weeks to months unless we get significant rain.”