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Editorial: How to avoid . . . breathing?

Smoky air in Rossland. Photo: Sara Golling

Recent announcements on air quality have stressed the hazards of breathing smoky air to children, old people, and anyone with respiratory issues such as asthma. But it’s bad for everyone, and we should all avoid it, whatever our age and level of health.

Need convincing?  Here’s some information about wildfire smoke from the NASA website:  https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2018/smoke-from-siberian-fires-reaches-canada

“The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter or soot and is hazardous to breathe. Recently though, a study was published in Nature Geoscience in May 2017 which discovered that particle pollution from wildfires, long known for containing soot and other fine particles known to be dangerous to human health, is much worse than previously thought.  Naturally burning timber and brush from wildfires release dangerous particles into the air at a rate three times as high as levels known by the EPA, researchers at Georgia Tech found.  The study also found wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals.  Residents that smell smoke or see haze in the air should take precautions against breathing too much of it and stay tuned to local air quality information.”

How to avoid it?  Stay inside when smoke levels are high – if you can smell the smoke or see it, it’s a health hazard.  Don’t try to mask the smell of smoke in your home with “air fresheners” – they just add pollutants to the indoor air.  Use HEPA air filtration instead;  don’t use devices that claim to “clean” the air using ozone – ozone is a dangerous pollutant itself.  If you can’t stay inside, wear a respirator with the best available filtration of fine particles – N95 or better.  Avoid exercising out there in the smoke; take a break from cycling, running and all that other normally good vigorous stuff.

Instead, get some brain exercise:  think very hard about the human-caused climate change that has resulted in unprecedented numbers of large wildfires around the globe, spreading smoke pollution around the globe. Think about the forecast from some of our most knowledgeable climate scientists that the next few years will be even hotter, because the earth is coming out of a naturally cooler cycle and heading into a naturally hotter one that is being further exacerbated by global warming from continuing human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Think about the forecast of a potential “hothouse earth” with more areas of the planet becoming unliveable, and food becoming scarcer as food production falters from extreme heat, droughts, soil depletion, floods and all the other disastrous sequelae of human-caused global warming.

And then think what people can do to make things better instead of worse.  How can we slow the warming trend and increase our chances of survival,  not only for ourselves but also for as many other species as possible? Who should we elect – who will be more likely to work toward a sustainable society, instead of just mouthing platitudes about it  -- while doing things that exacerbate climate change and take us closer to hot-house conditions on earth?

As that T-shirt says, there is no Planet B.

And as several cartoons have pointed out, those waiting for God to save us should remember that we came equipped with brains and we have some excellent scientists telling us what we need to do. Maybe we need to learn to turn away from the forces of evil -- greed, laziness, pride, ignorance, selfishness . . . and politicians ruled by them.

Brain exercise indeed.  But to think clearly, we may need to wait until the air clears, too. Wildfire smoke and too much carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide can fog the brain.  Meanwhile, best guard yourself against the smoke as well as you can.  And keep track of any wildfires that could possibly result in evacuation alerts or orders.  Know what you would need to take with you.

Here are three links to keep you informed about BC’s fire situation and our local fires:

BC Interactive Fire Map:

https://governmentofbc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=ef6f11c8c36b42c29e103f65dbcd7538

Updates from the RDKB:

https://twitter.com/search?q=rdkb+fire+update&ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Esearch

RDCK wildfire information page:

https://rdck.ca/EN/main/services/emergency-management/wildfires.html