Exposure to wildfire smoke in Canada increased by 220% over the past two decades: report

Canadians’ personal exposure to wildfire smoke has increased by 220 per cent over the past two decades, a new report reveals.

Data from the 2023 Lancet Countdown report also showed that from 2018 to 2022, the average Canadian was exposed for more than two days to “very high or extremely high wildfire danger,” an increase of 116 per cent compared to the historical period from 2003 to 2007. baseline. This baseline was also used to calculate wildfire smoke exposure data.

The Canadian statistics were released Wednesday in a policy brief in partnership with organizations including the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

“Even though the effects of climate change have been felt in recent years, 2023 was the worst year on record, highlighting the effects of global warming and what we can expect in the future if we are not starting to reduce our greenhouse gases. now,” Kathleen Ross, president of the CMA, told PKBNEWS.

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“We have certainly seen an increase in the health impacts of climate change, and now is the time to focus and start viewing the impacts of climate change as a human health crisis. »

Overall, the Lancet report suggests that on average, populations around the world were exposed to six additional days of very high or extremely high wildfire risk between 2018 and 2022 compared to 2003 and 2007, with an increase seen in 57 percent of countries, and no change or a decrease seen in the rest.

Compared to the period 1995-2014, the number of days exposed to very high or higher wildfire risk is expected to increase by approximately nine additional days per person globally (an increase of 11%). by mid-century.

This takes into account both a scenario consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 2°C and a scenario in which no further mitigation takes place, the study suggests.

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Two Canada geese swim as the South Saskatchewan River is shrouded in smoke from a wildfire in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, September 3, 2023.

Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press

Towards the end of the century, a scenario without additional mitigation measures is expected to result in 27 more days of exposure than between 1995 and 2014.

What makes up wildfire smoke?

Wildfire smoke is made up of a collection of different gases and particles, and one in particular that is very harmful to human health is called PM 2.5.

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The Lancet report indicated that the concentration of PM 2.5 would be 5 percent higher in the scenario without further mitigation than in a scenario consistent with 2°C warming by 2041-2060, but 50 percent higher by 2081-2100 a*suming no further adaptations.

Smoke particles from wildfires are “very small things that you can potentially inhale into your lungs and cause irritation and inflammation,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, on June 19. June.

“There is certainly a correlation between the inhalation of fine particles and lung problems and airway problems such as asthma, exacerbations of chronic obstructive airway diseases, bronchitis and pneumonia and, although the data are still somewhat mixed, there could also be an impact on your cardiovascular system.”

The Lancet report, released Tuesday, did not include data for 2023 – the worst wildfire season in Canadian history.

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A record 18.5 million hectares of land have been burned this year, according to the Canadian Interagency Wildfire Centre. Smoke from wildfires has spread across the country, prompting numerous warnings about air quality. It even spread to cities across the United States and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to parts of Europe.

“The most vulnerable are people with pre-existing conditions, people over 65 and those under one year old; smoke certainly causes exacerbations of problems like asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but it is also a*sociated with worsening heart disease,” Ross said.

“The impacts on mental health are not negligible. Staying indoors, especially if you’re an older person, losing that social contact is a challenge, but climate anxiety is taking a toll on our population, especially our young people, and it’s obviously also affecting our overall sense of well-being. be.

The guidance note makes several recommendations on how to address wildfires and their impacts on human health in the future.

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It suggests governments improve emergency response systems for extreme weather events and involve indigenous knowledge and preparedness, as well as local people, in developing response policies and fair evacuation plans.

Additionally, it suggests a shift toward a culture of supporting resilient forest ecosystems rather than suppressing fires by supporting prescribed burns, planting biodiverse forests and more.

Additionally, he says governments should develop better practices for communicating health risks a*sociated with air quality indices to better inform the public and institutions like schools and daycares.

“There is no doubt that we must act now to reduce our dependence on carbon-emitting fuels. We need to consider adopting practices that are much healthier for us personally. A plant-based diet can actually help reduce greenhouse gases, by looking at our personal transportation more actively and moving us away from the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change,” she said. Ross said.

“Certainly, at the CMA we focus on the training processes of doctors and health systems, but educating the general population will be necessary if we are to mobilize our government to take action aimed at change the way we do things. a healthy and sustainable future for all Canadians.

&copy 2023 PKBNEWS, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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