'Itchy throats, headaches and shortness of breath': Alberta air quality statements remain due to smoke

As smoke from wildfires in British Columbia and Saskatchewan continues to blow across Alberta, air quality levels are still considered problematic on Monday with a special air quality statement from Environment Canada in place for nearly the entire province.

The Air Quality Health Index has registered Calgary at a Level 7, but the forecast calls for it to reach nine on a scale of one to 10+, which is considered high risk. Edmonton is expected to reach a 10 on Monday and the statement is in place for nearly the entire province.

Visibility is reduced and pollution is especially concerning for young children, the elderly and those who have underlying health concerns or respiratory issues.

Smoke can aggravate these diseases and could initiate more visits to doctor or the emergency room, according to Environment Canada.

BAD FOR BUSINESS

The smoke is also bad for businesses, at least at Abbey's Creations ice cream in Montgomery

Owner Paul Hopfner says customers often grab ice cream inside, then sit on the patio to enjoy it.

But those customers crave ice cream on hot sunny days, not dark, smoky ones, like Sunday.

"We were probably down about 50 per cent over the weekend," he said. "We usually get a lot of bike traffic, and that was way down."

While the smoky air is annoying for most people, it's also dangerous for others.

"A healthy individual with heathy lungs probably doesn't have to be quite as aware, (although) its more uncomfortable in the short term," said respirologist Dr. Brandie Walker, "but for people that have an underlying lung condition it can also lead to a flare up for their disease the need for more medication and potentially to hospital admissions,"

Walker added that just because you can't smell the smoke, it doesn't mean the air isn't still potential dangerous.  Even if there are no particulates, which create a haze in the air, there could still be potentially harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, as a result of wildfires.

PHYSICAL IMPACTS

The air quality is expected to cause more itchy throats, headaches and shortness of breath.

Calgary Emergency Medical Services recommends limiting  time outdoors as much as possible, and to keep outdoor activities low intensity.

“If you do have an underlying health condition like asthma, chronic bronchitis or COPD, avoiding 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," said Helene Hamilton, public education officer, Alberta Health Services EMS.

Hamilton also says it is crucial to stay hydrated and to take plenty of breaks.

According to Alberta Health Services spokesperson James Woods, emergency departments and urgent care centres in the Calgary Zone have seen a slight overall increase in visits related to respiratory concerns since the Environment Canada air quality alert for the Calgary region on July 13th.

Since July 13, AHS said an average of 101 presentations for respiratory issues were recorded, with the highest day to date being July 13 with 124 presentations.

From July 7 through July 12, an average of 93 presentations for respiratory issues were recorded.

From June 16 to June 21, an average of 79 visits were recorded.

EMS also saw a slight increase in respiratory calls.

FIRE BAN CONTINUES

A fire ban remains in effect after being introduced late last week.

The Calgary Fire Department says there is significant risk because of prolonged hot and dry conditions.

This ban includes all open fire pits, campfires and outdoor fire places and will remain in place until the weather pattern changes.