The City of Vancouver is preparing for a smoky summer, making plans to create “respite areas” at several communities centres, libraries and non-market-housing units.
The public spaces could act as clean air havens for people who have health concerns and lack access to an air-conditioned space during air quality advisories. The rooms would be equipped with portable HEPA filters and some would also serve as cooling centres, according to a statement from the City of Vancouver.
Experts are warning that it’s likely to be another hot, smoke-filled summer in B.C. this year. B.C. Wildfire Service information shows the province has seen increased drought and higher-than-average temperatures in 2019, with the trend expected to continue.
“Obviously, we expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest … And increased temperatures are likely to drive higher ozone formation, and so we expect there may be more potential for that this summer as well,” Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer Francis Ries told Postmedia on Tuesday.
Ozone, a pollutant that when mixed with fine particulate matter creates smog, often irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and over time can cause permanent lung damage.
Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
“As we continue to see further warming, we expect that the patterns we are seeing now are likely to continue or perhaps even get more extreme,” he said.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies across B.C.
In Metro Vancouver, there were 22 days last July and August under air-quality advisories, three more than in the summer of 2017.
The last two summers have far exceeded the number of advisories issued in any other year since 1996, the first year for which data is available. Several years, including 2016, had zero air-quality advisories.
University of B.C. public health professor Dr. Michael Brauer said many public buildings are already equipped with air conditioning and filters that provide effective relief on smoky days. Simply closing windows can significantly improve air quality, while even a small filter can remove particulate matter. Higher-quality filters may require more energy, but buildings could swap them in on days when the air quality is poor.
Brauer said the long-term health impacts of one or two weeks of smoky skies each summer are likely very small, but if that time stretches into one or two months — as it is threatening to do in some parts of the B.C. Interior — it would be “concerning.”
“We know that day-in-day-out exposure (to pollution) can be life-shortening,” he said, alluding to studies in other countries where pollution is a significant problem. “It can causes diseases to get worse, and accelerates the progression of disease.”
With files by Lori Culbert
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