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Southwestern Ontario air quality concerns sparking up early due to western Canada wildfires

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Smoke from burning wildfires in western Canada is making its way to southwestern Ontario, with officials reminding residents about air quality concerns.

“It unfortunately looks to be yet another very active wildfire season in the prairie provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, parts of northeastern British Columbia,” said Environment Canada and Climate Change Meteorologist Geoff Couslon.

He added, “And while folks may say those provinces are a long distance away, hundreds, maybe even thousands of kilometers away from southwestern Ontario, the products of combustion, these small particles can get shot up into the atmosphere in these fires and travel great distances along the wings in the mid to upper levels of the atmosphere.”

Coulson said air quality in Windsor-Essex generally remains low risk at the moment, but suggests that could change, recalling last year’s unprecedented wildfire season that saw smoke-filled skies prompt several “high risk” air quality warnings.

“The last few days for example, we've seen some hazy skies in southwestern Ontario due to some of these wildfires burning in the prairie provinces. Fortunately, at this point the small particulate hasn't come down to the surface,” said Coulson. “So air quality at ground level is still fairly reasonable in southwestern Ontario, but as we go forward into the late spring, into the summer season, unfortunately, it looks like it will be yet another active wildfire season in western Canada.”

Coulson advises folks to be aware of wildfires influencing the air quality in the southwest during the coming weeks and months.

Coulson noted there are several different websites and apps to check local air quality status like airqualityOntario.com and firesmoke.ca.

“We really are in a time where people can stay well versed in what the potential risk could be in the coming days and also just paying attention again to the general Environment Canada weather app where we're going to have information on wind patterns and potential wildfire smoke issues as well,” he said.

He said this is not just a problem restricted to our region, “This is truly a continental issue. Once we start bringing in those atmospheric winds in the mid to upper levels of the atmosphere.”

Meantime, officials at the Windsor-Essex County Heath Unit (WECHU) worry about extended wildfire seasons becoming more commonplace due to climate change, noting exposure to wildfire smoke over a lengthy period of time is concerning.

“We expect poor air quality over Windsor-Essex-Kent as a result of these wildfires this spring and summer,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mehdi Aloosh said. “We expect more worsening of asthma and COPD and cardiac diseases in patients. This means that we should prepare for the poor air quality.”

Aloosh suggested those with concerns should talk to their doctors, become familiarized with the air quality health index, and use air cleaning HEPA filters indoors at night.

“If it’s transient, wildfire, for the general public it’s not that concerning. It’s concerning when exposure to wildfire smoke increases over time,” Aloosh told CTV News.

He added that the increase in the intensity and number of fires is cause for concern.

“This year might not be a huge issue for the general population in our community but I might not say the same thing in five or ten years, or even three years. At that time, it would be very late to do something,” said Aloosh.

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