British Columbia

Castlegar particulate matter count soars as smoky conditions haunt southern B.C.

The air quality health index ranks risk from low to high on a scale of one to 10, but the current risk goes beyond that level and is listed as 10-plus.

Special air quality statement remains in effect for Metro Vancouver

According to the B.C. air quality index, Castlegar, in the West Kootenays, is topping the charts for particulate matter. (Submitted by Liana Zwick)

Smoky conditions continue to haunt much of southern B.C., as smoke from the wildfires ripping through Washington and Oregon lingers.

A special air quality statement has been in effect for Metro Vancouver since Saturday, with Environment Canada advising people with underlying medical conditions to stay indoors.

According to the B.C. air quality index, Castlegar, in the West Kootenays, is topping the charts for particulate matter. A chart shows the current concentration of fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns is currently at 463.7, while a value of 25 is what is considered safe.

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, is a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Particles smaller than a certain size become dangerous because of their ability to pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. 

Liana Zwick, who lives in Castlegar, said because the city is in a narrow valley, the air rolls in as it settles, covering everything in thick, grey smoke.

"Everything is very still and quiet, it gives a very eerie feeling," she said.

"This affects a lot of our activities, so between smoke indexes and weather forecasts we're tracking this quite closely but not only for lifestyle, but also for people's health."

Zwick said the hazy conditions remind her of previous B.C. wildfire seasons, a scenario most had hoped to avoid in 2020.

"It's very reminiscent of things we've seen previously ... This just pushes it back to that memory of when we were socked in for a much longer time," she said.

"Our communities are quite vulnerable and this does not provide a lot of ease. We also know it can happen at any point here, still."  

Vancouver air quality remains low

Vancouver is currently listed among major cities in the world as having the second worst air quality in the world, behind Portland. The air quality health index ranks risk from low to high on a scale of one to 10, but the current risk goes beyond that level and is listed as 10-plus.

A statement from Metro Vancouver said that smoke levels are expected to be lower on Monday, however smoke concentrations may vary widely across the region as winds and temperatures change, and as wildfire behaviour changes.

Residents in Metro Vancouver and beyond have smelled smoke from fires in the U.S. for days, with a fog-like haze continuing to obscure mountains on the North Shore and the sun giving off an eerie orange glow.

Children, the elderly and pregnant women should avoid spending too much time outdoors to protect their health.

WATCH | B.C. skies hazy with smoke from U.S. wildfires, posing health risk

Environment Canada issued a special air-quality statement for most of British Columbia this weekend because of wildfire smoke from Washington state and Oregon. 3:13

With files from Georgie Smyth

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