Air quality concerns in southwestern Alberta from wildfires
Residents of Lethbridge are being urged to reduce their time outdoors due to wildfire smoke that is blanketing parts of southwestern Alberta.
Monday, the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) was shifting between four and seven in the areas around Lethbridge and Taber, which ranges from moderate to the low end of the high risk category.
The forecast calls for the AQHI to reach nine on Tuesday and Tuesday evening.
Many areas of southern Alberta remain under gray skies and a dingy veil of haze, but the wildfire smoke wasn’t enough to keep Pam Brown from going for a walk in the river valley with some of her friends.
However, it did cause them to change their route said Brown. “We were going to go up and down in the coulees, but a couple of ladies are bothered by the smoke, so we are just going to stick to the river bottom and hope for the best.”
Oksana and Roman Ostashevsky are visiting the area from Edmonton. They said the smoke reduced visibility and made for an eerie drive, but they still wanted to get outside and enjoy the scenery.
“Worst case scenario, we can use the masks,” said Oksana. “We have them in our car.”
Alberta Health Services said there were no air quality advisories or warnings for the Lethbridge area, but the Lung Association of Alberta and Northwest Territories said smoky conditions in the moderate to high range can become a challenge for both people with or without lung or heart disease.
“For someone without lung problems wood smoke can irritate your eyes, your lungs, throat and sinuses,” said Nina Snyder, COO of the lung association.
“You might have a headache and think it’s because your kids are off school, but maybe you are reacting to your environment,” Snyder added.
She said smoke in the air can also trigger asthma and cause reduced lung function in children because their lungs are smaller.
For those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) the complications can be even more severe.
“For someone who has severe COPD and is on oxygen, going outside is not going to be the best thing for them,” added Snyder.
“People may need help picking up groceries or medication,” she added.
Despite a haze that made it hard to see across the river valley Bali Khadka was running a circuit that include several steep coulee hills.
“It is a little bit harder than running in normal weather,” said Khadka, who enjoys exercise and loves to run. “It is a little harder to breathe.”
The Air Quality Health Index was shifting between four and seven in the areas around Lethbridge and Taber, which ranges from moderate to the low end of the high risk category. The forecast calls for the AQHI to reach nine on Tuesday and Tuesday evening.
The city of Lethbridge tweeted that Henderson Pool was closed for the day due to the poor air quality. "A message from our partners at Recreation Excellence: Due to poor air quality, Henderson Pool will not be open today for the safety of visitors and staff. This includes Aqua Zumba and Fit. Have a great day and stay safe!"
The air quality can fluctuate over short distances and vary considerably hour by hour. Lung association officials said that makes it important for people to monitor the AQHI, so they can be aware of what’s coming, and take the necessary precautions.