High-risk air quality levels prompt health concerns in Calgary

Calgarians woke up to a thick blanket of smoke Sunday morning as wildfires from B.C. as well as the U.S. continue to waft in and descend throughout the city.

Environment Canada’s special air quality statement for Calgary rated the risk at a level 10, which is just shy of the ‘very high-risk’ category or 10+.

Health officials like Alberta Health Services public education officer Helene Hamilton are urging caution, especially for those with respiratory conditions, the very young or very elderly, and for pregnant women.

“If you do have an underlying health condition like asthma, chronic bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), avoid the outdoors, at all costs, making sure that you're in an area that has good air filtering and using your regular medications as directed,” Hamilton said.

“Visibility is also a big issue right now because of the smoke in the air, so we ask everyone to drive with care and attention, making sure you're maintaining your following distances and are aware of your surroundings.”

Hamilton adds that additional calls to EMS typically follow high risk air quality advisories, which is why taking preventative measures are important for those spending time outdoors.

Alyssa Chow did just that on Sunday as she wore a mask and limited time outside while walking her dog.

“I looked outside and I couldn’t really see much, so we’re probably going to just be drinking lots of water, not staying outside too long and wearing masks.”

Others like Neomai Ghebreyohannes, still attended the Calgary Stampede with her kids all day Sunday, but made sure she knew of plenty of indoor locations in case her family got tired.

“We’ll do rides but we’ll also be inside, going to the agricultural areas to visit the animals and drinking water and making sure the kids have snacks too.”

Outdoor sports such as baseball were cancelled on Sunday for young children, but the smoke still didn’t stop some Calgarians from enjoying their favourite outdoor pastimes.

Adam Mysliwy golfed 18 holes at Fox Hollow but said it was a bit tricky to breathe at times.

“It’s definitely smoky for sure, it would be nice to see some sun but a cooler day after the few weeks we had isn’t so bad so if we have to deal with some smoke it’s not the worst.”

Mysliwy joked that he wished he could hit more ‘smoke bombs’ on the course in this kind of weather, but says his golf game still needs some work.

The smoke in Calgary is expected to clear up only slightly on Monday with a ‘high-risk’ reading of 9 projected, before falling to a 6 on Monday evening, which is considered ‘moderate.’

The City of Calgary also announced a fire ban on Friday as a result of the air quality that will remain in effect until further notice.