An article in the National Observer, “Smoke from wildfires damages public health, B.C. scientist says, warning of future impacts” (Dec. 6, 2017) highlights that wood smoke–whether from wildfire, wood stoves or other burning–can have a significant effect on people’s health:
“[Fine particulates] can put the whole body into a state of systemic inflammation, which can affect all of the organs and systems in the body,” [Sarah Henderson, a scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control] said. “So, it can affect your heart and your brain and even though you’re breathing this stuff in, so it makes sense that it’s affecting your lungs and your eyes and your throat, it can also affect everything else in your body.”
If those small particles in the air increase by just 10 micrograms per [cubic] meter, the asthmatic response goes up five per cent and the cardiovascular response goes up one per cent, Henderson said.
As the article notes, increases in the 24-hour average of just 10 micrograms can cause an increase in asthmatic responses and heart attacks (another study done in the Comox Valley found even a 5 microgram increase causes a very notable increased risk of heart attacks in seniors).
Keep in mind, in the winter in the Comox Valley, it is common to be well over 10 micrograms, and many days we are over 20 micrograms for our 24-hour average (our hourly averages are up above 50 many nights of the week). Some neighbourhoods experience worse conditions, some better (see mobile monitoring maps).
No safe level of exposure
But everyone’s health has the potential to be affected. The air we breathe, and the pollution in it, knows no boundaries.
As Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for North Vancouver Island, said in a Vancouver Sun article: “In the winter months, it’s really about what’s coming out of your chimney. It’s understanding the fact that there is no healthy level of air pollution. And exposure over time does impact chronic disease progression.”
This concern was echoed by another Island Health Medical Officer at a a presentation to the Regional District of Nanaimo (see article), “There is no lower limit at which the air quality will not cause health problems.”
So why aren’t our elected representatives acting to protect their citizen’s health?