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Lung Health and Forest Fire Smoke

Common advice includes staying indoors, and reducing physical activity outdoors when there is a lot of smoke around. This is intended to minimize exposure and inhalation of harmful particulate matter. Sometimes you may hear that it can be useful to use an N95 respirator mask or use an air cleaner. The N95 respirators may be helpful for healthy people who work outdoors and who have the support of their occupational health and safety departments, but we don’t recommend them for the general public. They are challenging to fit properly, and they make it even harder to breathe – that is really not helpful for anyone whose breathing is already compromised. We strongly recommend the use of HEPA or electrostatic air cleaners  in a well-insulated room. These units can reduce indoor particulate matter during smoke episodes, and studies they can help to reduce respiratory symptoms.

We’re also suggesting that communities should consider cancelling outdoor events and establishing public clean air shelters in buildings such as libraries and community centers.

Further, we suggest that air filtration systems should be augmented in institutions such as hospitals and senior care homes well in advance of smoke episodes occurring. In some cases, it may be possible to evacuate people to areas with better air quality, but this should be a last resort because it causes a lot of stress and anxiety.

Forest fires and their smoke will always be with us, and the best way to minimize smoke impacts on individual and public health is to be prepared. The best offense truly is a good defense.

Manitoba Health has comprehensive information on health and forest fire smoke,  click here to be directed to their page.

To find information on the location of forest fires in Manitoba click here to go to the FireView web page.

Our BC Lung foundation partner has great information on lung health and smoke from forest fires.   Click here to go to their page.

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