Orange skies caused by a thick layer of smoke being pushed from the Shovel Lake wildfire over Fort Fraser | Ashley Kennedy/Handout photo
For a number of years the north has lived some of the summer under a blanket of wildfire smoke, but we know surprisingly little about the effect it’s having on us.
Sarah Henderson, Senior Environmental Health Scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) told MyPGNow.com that the centre does not have any research on the long term health impacts of exposure to wildfire smoke.
“We’ve seen a different fire regime in the last few years than we were exposed to previously, and when you’re studying the long term health effects of something, you need to study it over years and years because that’s what the long term is.”
Paula Tait, Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor with Northern Health said that while they may not have the research on wildfire smoke in particular, there are parallels between evidence they do have.
“We do know that long term exposure to all types of air pollution is harmful to health and can lead to heart disease, lung disease and even lung cancer.”
According to her, wildfire smoke is a mixture of a number of bad pollutants, the most notable of which is PM 2.5.
“It’s particulate matter that’s really, really small and can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause all kinds of problems within the body ranging from common respiratory disease or exacerbation, worsening of asthma, right to other effects in the body like diabetes and mental health issues,” said Tait.
Henderson also said they can suspect some things from other evidence.
“We do know wildland firefighters are exposed year after year every year, they tend to be far more highly exposed than the general public, but there is evidence building that there are longer term health impacts for that group, often respiratory ”
The remedy to the lack of research is two fold; they need people to design the studies to what Henderson said is a complicated question, and they need time to pass.
Pending the funding, the BCCDC would begin research on who they are most concerned for; pregnant women and newborns.
“I understand that people are concerned about this, but it’s a really good time to reiterate that if you protect yourself from smoke exposure in the short term, you’ll also protect yourself against any potential long term impacts. The less smoke you breathe, the less impact it will have on your health either now or in the future,” added Henderson.