After a series of apocalyptic-looking sunrises, Okanagan residents saw the dawn of clearer days as the new week got underway.
That clearing trend, however, isn’t expected to last.
According to the real-time air quality index, which pulls a pollution rating from stations across the valley, the PM2.5 level is expected to rise to hazardously unhealthy levels again by later today.
PM2.5 is the measure of tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility when levels are elevated. Outdoor PM2.5 levels are most likely to be elevated on days with little or no wind or air mixing.
The forecast shows PM2.5 levels varying from 108 to 349 in the days ahead.
Those elevated pollution levels are worse than what’s seen in some of the world’s smoggiest cities, such as Beijing, China and Jodhpur, India.
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It’s not new. In the last week, this measure of pollution has reached record highs in the valley.
In Kelowna and Vernon, for example, the weekend high of PM2.5 was 473 — a volume that is deemed hazardous. On Monday, the level dropped to 178 PM2.5 in Kelowna, and on Tuesday it reached a low of 152.
There is no shortage of people expressing concern about the quality of air they’re inhaling.
Karen Moore said she’s had to stay inside to deal with the conditions.
“Just taking the dog outside to do her business has aggravated my lungs to the point I needed my inhalers. I have also been fighting a headache,” she said. “Wish the fires were under control and the smoke would go away.”
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“My lungs are irritated and congested. I have a constant headache, and my eyes and throat are sore,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m more sensitive to this than others, but I am very surprised at how bad I’ve felt over the past week or so.”
Despite an abundance of personal anecdotes about the impact smoke is having, Kelowna General Hospital officials report that it’s business as usual at its Emergency Department.
“During wildfire smoke events it is common to see an increase in people experiencing symptoms and irritation from smoke exposure. At this time we are not seeing a significant increase in visits to our Emergency Departments for individuals presenting with smoke related illness,” said Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Trevor Corneil.
There has been some hope some changing weather could offer a reprieve.
According to Lisa Erven, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, hot and dry temperatures will persist into Thursday. Temperatures will then begin to drop throughout Thursday with increased cloud cover and a cold front sweeping through other parts of the province.
“For Thursday night and Friday we’re expecting to see some showers. Daytime temperatures will really drop off well below seasonal for this time of year, with a high of 18 C for Friday,” said Erven.
It’s too early to say just how much rain this area will see.
“We could see quite a large variation (of showers) from place to place — it could be anywhere from a trace to up to five or eight millimetres.”
While B.C. in general, is facing a high level of smog the overall air quality of most Canadian cities is some of the best in the world.
Air pollution is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the world, and the World Health Organization says nine out of 10 people on the planet breathe polluted air, and it kills 7 million people each year, almost all of them in poor countries in Asia and Africa.
About a quarter of deaths from heart disease, stroke and lung cancer can be attributed to air pollution, the WHO says.
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