Click HERE to see all current Wildfire Smoke Advisories in effect in Northern Health communities
Click on topic below for more information:
Air Quality – reducing your exposure in smoky conditions
Water Quality – ensuring your drinking water is safe for use
Food Safety – safe food handling and preparation in emergency situations
Smoke drifting into local air sheds from numerous forest fires in the province could pose a potential health risk, especially for children and people with chronic conditions.
Reducing your exposure to smoke and other airborne contaminants is key to staying healthy when air quality is less than ideal. In the case of wood smoke from sources like forest fires, health effects are usually related to irritation of eyes, throat or the respiratory tract. Some people may be more sensitive to the effects of wood smoke and may experience symptoms at concentrations of smoke that are easily tolerated by others. Both the particles and gases found in wood smoke can affect health, although particles are likely responsible for most effects.
Although sensitivity to wood smoke varies, people who have heart disease or lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma may experience worsening of their symptoms. Children breathe more rapidly than adults and may also be a sensitive group.
If you or those in your care are being affected by smoke, you are advised to take the following precautions:
Avoid strenuous outdoor activities.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact your health care provider: difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. Exposure is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, and lung or heart disease.
People with heart or lung conditions may be more sensitive to the effects of smoke and should watch for any change in symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure. If any symptoms are noted, affected individuals should take steps to reduce their exposure to smoke and if necessary see their physician. People with symptoms should go to their health care provider, walk in clinic or emergency department depending on severity of symptoms.
Use common sense regarding outdoor physical activity – if your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity.
Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.
Smoke levels may be lower indoors, however levels of smoke particles will still be increased. If you stay indoors, be aware of your symptoms.
Consider visiting a location like a shopping mall with cooler filtered air. Keep in mind that staying indoors may help you stay cool and provide some relief from the smoke, however many air conditioning systems do not filter the air or improve indoor air quality.
Reduce indoor pollution sources such as smoking or burning other materials.
You may be able to reduce your exposure to smoke by moving to cleaner air. Conditions can vary dramatically by area and elevation.
Residents with asthma or other chronic illness should activate their asthma or personal care plan.
Pay attention to local air quality reports, air quality may be poor even though smoke may not be visible.
Commercially available HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters can further reduce poor indoor air quality near the device.
Maintaining good overall health is a good way to prevent health effects resulting from short-term exposure to air pollution.
For general information about smoke and your health, contact HealthLink BC available toll free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 8-1-1, or via the web at: http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/kbaltindex.asp
Simple dust masks are unlikely to provide much reduction in exposure to fine particles or gaseous pollutants. The more sophisticated masks that do provide protection against fine particles require fit testing and fit checking to be effective, and may require increased effort to breathe.
Northern Health, in conjunction with other agencies, will be monitoring smoke levels in communities close to fire activity. If situations arise where evacuation or relocation of high-risk individuals is required, NH will work to provide information to communities and partner agencies, and will assist with risk assessment and coordination of medical services.
Water quality can be compromised by a variety of emergencies, including natural disasters like forest fire or flooding. Environmental Health Officers routinely inspect, sample and assess Community Water Systems in Northern BC. Water systems with high hazard ratings are generally put on a boil advisory until the source of contamination is found, or adequate treatment facilities are installed.
If you are concerned about impacts on a community water system following a natural disaster or other emergency situation, please refer to the following resources:
If you have your own water supply and have questions about potential impact on that supply, contact your local Environmental Health Officer.
Food safety is an important consideration in emergency situations such as a power outage, or following a period of evacuation from your home.
Food safety when evacuation orders are lifted
Upon returning to your home following a period of evacuation, it is important to ensure any food left behind has not spoiled or been compromised by a power outage.
Check expiry dates on food left behind during a period of evacuation, to determine if they are still safe to eat. If frozen foods have thawed, they may not be safe to eat and must be discarded. (Thawed and refrozen ice cream may be a good indicator that helps to determine whether the freezer has been off. Fish product that is malodorous on thawing is also a good sign.)
If in doubt throw it out. Do not take any chances with the safety of your food.
Food safety when the power is out
If you are affected by a power outage, there are steps you can take to prevent food spoilage. Drinking water quality can also be compromised from power outages, contact your water supplier if you have questions.
When you lose power , if a generator powered refrigeration unit is available, transfer food to the unit. If a powered refrigeration unit is not available, leave food in the refrigerator or freezer and keep the door closed.
Food safety when the power returns
- Ideally, fridge temperatures should remain at 4 degrees Celsius or below and foods in the freezer should remain frozen solid.
- A refrigerator can keep food cool for up to 12 hours and a freezer can keep food safe for days if it is kept closed.
- If you don’t have a thermometer or if you don’t know how long your fridge was without power:
- Check the products in the fridge for spoilage and souring. Milk and other dairy products that have gone off/sour are good indicators that the fridge has been off and all food should be discarded.
- If frozen foods have thawed, they may not be safe to eat and must be discarded.
- Food in the freezer that has or may have reached 4C or higher should be discarded and must not re-frozen.
- Thawed and refrozen ice cream may be a good indicator that helps to determine whether the freezer has been off. Fish product that is malodorous on thawing is also a good sign.
- If there has been an extended power outage it may be necessary to contact your insurance provider. Make a list of items discarded and photograph these items if possible for insurance purposes.
- Extra precautions should apply to ready to eat foods.
- If in doubt throw it out. Do not take any chances with the safety of your food.