Wildfire smoke prompts special air quality statement for Edmonton area

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement on Thursday morning for Edmonton, St. Albert and Sherwood Park. 

Even for healthy people, going out on a day like this is hard on the heart and lungs, doctor says

Edmontonians woke up to a smoky city on Thursday morning. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement on Thursday morning for Edmonton, St. Albert and Sherwood Park. 

"Smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta is causing poor air quality and reducing visibility in some areas," reads the statement from Environment Canada. 

The statement said "people may experience increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk."

This map shows how the smoke from Alberta wildfires is travelling across the west. (firesmoke.ca)

Edmonton's Air Quality Health Index was 7 (high risk) Thursday afternoon. The index is expected to get worse, down to 8 or even lower Thursday night, but rise to moderate risk on Friday.

Dr. Ron Damant, a lung doctor and professor of medicine at the University of Alberta said it's ill advised for those with existing lung problems to go outside.

"There are a lot of acute kind of impacts that can happen within the first few minutes or couple hours of exposure and there's also the risk of ending up in emergency," Damant said.

But, he said, even for people who are otherwise healthy, going out on a day like this one is hard on the heart and lungs. 

"It can cause immediate injury to the to the upper respiratory tract, the lower respiratory tract. A lot of the particulate material and stuff gets into your body and it can cause both acute medium-term and long-term consequences and it can be irreversible.

"Another way of looking at it is that all smoke is bad. Doesn't matter what the source is from and over a lifetime cumulative damage from smoke can cause irreversible problems to the lung and the heart and other parts of the body."

The Edmonton Minor Soccer Association cancelled U13-U17 Community City Wide games and U9-U19 Premier/Club games due to the poor air quality.

      Environment Canada recommends that people who have trouble breathing stay inside, somewhere cool and ventilated. 

      Smoke is expected to move back toward the north by Friday morning. 

      For more information, visit Environment Canada's website

      A smoky Edmonton river valley. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

      With files from Sheena Rossiter


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