Everyone has to breathe.
This means everyone's health can be impacted by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in our air (see Health Impacts for more information).
And children, seniors and those with pre-existing conditions are the most vulnerable to air pollution (about about 33% of the population).
We can't avoid breathing, and we can't boil our air when it gets bad. But there are ways to try and minimize the impact of wood smoke.
Unless there is a wildfire, our summer air is pretty clean! In the winter, the worst smoke pollution tends to happen in the evenings. Daytime pollution levels are generally low unless there is a strong inversion that traps smoke or nearby outdoor burning.
And our pollution levels are usually not the same across the valley. Older residential neighbourhoods in populated areas tend to be worse off because of the number of wood stoves in use (see our mobile monitoring maps to assess your area). But one stove next door can be a cause for concern. Yard waste fires and other open burning can make rural areas quite polluted in the spring and fall.
So it isn't always necessary to take steps to protect yourself. The first thing is to assess the air quality in your area.
The Air Quality Health Index is one tool that might help you assess your risk. It provides a risk rating for the whole valley, based on readings at the monitor located at the Courtenay Elementary School so you need to figure out if this is likely similar to the air you are being exposed to.
Staying inside will reduce your exposure to fine particulate pollution. However, studies have shown that 50-70% of the fine particulates found outside will get inside a house. So harm can be reduced, but not eliminated, by staying indoors.
You can help improve your home's air quality, by buying and running air purifiers.
Any HEPA-rated filter will take out many of the fine particulates inside your house. Get the right size for size of the rooms you have, and replace the filters at least once a year.
Depending on your heating or ventilation system, you may be able to install air filters in your system. Talk to a professional about this option.
In some homes, the only mechanical ventilation is a manual fan over a cooking range and a bathroom fan. When these fans run, they send air outside, which means they have to draw air in from other cracks or vents.
In more modern homes, the ventilation system is always on and pulling "fresh" air into the house. Although mechanical ventilation is intended to improve your indoor air quality, you might want to turn it off during times of bad outdoor air quality. If you do leave it off a lot, you might need to buy a dehumidifier to take excess moisture out of the air.
We recommend you talk to a professional about the risks to your health if you are thinking about not using your mechanical ventilation at times, or to see if you can get inline filters for your system. Indoor air quality is also negatively affected by things like cooking and cleaning so you need to be aware of the pros and cons of using your ventilation system.
While face masks might reduce your exposure, they are not recommended by medical people except for people working in wildfire situations. Avoiding polluted air is the better option!
For one, masks may not fit well. People with facial hair, for example, have a hard time getting a good seal so polluted air gets in around the edges. So you might think you are being protected when you aren't.
They also make you breathe harder which could create other issues for some.
If you do use one, be sure it is rated as N95 or N99. This means it will filter out either 95% or 99% of the fine particulates in the air.
Make sure the mask fits tightly around your nose and cheeks and has a good seal.