Be Aware of the Health Impacts of Canadian Wildfire Smoke 

By Jeffrey Johns | June 19 2023 | Uncategorized

You can’t turn on the news, weather forecasts, or go outside without becoming aware of the impacts of smoke from Canadian wildfires around Western New York.  Over 9 million acres (about twice the area of New Jersey) of Canadian forest have been charred by the ongoing wildfires and the smoke from those fires has drifted thousands of miles away, blanketing much of the Northeast. 

Health Impacts 

The natural question is what are the health impacts of breathing in the smoke and particulates. “Those who have pre-existing respiratory issues, like asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder), are going to be more susceptible to the impacts of poor air quality, said Jonathan Edelson, M.D., a board-certified pulmonologist with Buffalo Medical Group. “Difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, irritated throat, bronchitis, reduced lung function, coughing and chest pains are among the potential health effects of bad air quality.” 

Who is Impacted 

“Among those at the highest risk are people with lung diseases such as asthma, and COPD, but the smoke and particulate matter can also impact pregnant women, those with cardio-vascular issues, children and older adults,” said Nashat Rabadi, M.D., board certified in pulmonology and critical care medicine, with Buffalo Medical Group. The particulate matter can irritate the bronchioles, the small tubes that go down into your lungs and connect to the alveoli, which are the sacs that allow you to breathe.” 

Among the minor symptoms of poor air quality are headaches, sinus and eye irritation, and fatigue. While these are not as severe as some other potential effects, they could cause significant discomfort.  

Tips for reducing the risk 

What can people do to reduce the risk of exposure to wildfire smoke and particulate matter? “it’s a good idea to monitor the daily air quality reports. If you have a pre-exiting lung condition, it’s a good idea to reduce your exposure to the particulate matter in wildfire smoke by staying indoors whenever possible, you can also wear an N95 or a similar respirator outside and limit any strenuous activity when the reports are in the unhealthy range,” said  Sherif Sherif, M.D., board certified in pulmonary disease, with Buffalo Medical Group. 

Air Quality Index 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the following air quality index to explain how safe — or unsafe — the air is in a certain area.  

Air quality is quantified using a scale that ranges from zero to 500, with a lower number indicating better air quality and anything over 300 being hazardous.  

The numerical scale is broken into sections that are color-coded, making it easier for people to understand the conditions in their area:  

  • 0-50 is “good” air quality and colored GREEN  

  • 51-100 is “moderate” and YELLOW  

  • 101-150 is “unhealthy for certain groups” and ORANGE  

  • 151-200 is “unhealthy” and RED  

  • 201-300 is “very unhealthy” and PURPLE  

  • 301 and above is “hazardous” and MAROON