Smoky skies present medical issues for some

Fraser Health reports an increase in visits to emergency departments.

Smoke from forest fires  prompted an air quality advisory for Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley earlier this week.

Smoke from forest fires prompted an air quality advisory for Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley earlier this week.

Karen Mortensen first noticed that her breathing was becoming more laboured a few days ago, but the situation intensified on Sunday as the air thickened in the Fraser Valley.

A heavy haze blanketed the Valley, including Abbotsford and Mission, due to smoke from wildfires throughout the province and in Washington State.

Mortensen suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease that constricts breathing.

The diminishing air quality resulted in Mortensen having to confine herself to her Mission home.

“For me, when the air gets really thick like this … it makes it extremely hard to breathe.”

She uses inhalers and is now taking the maximum dose. Even climbing the stairs in her home has become labour-intensive.

“This is the worst year ever … I have never seen it like this.”

Many other people posting on the Abbotsford News Facebook page reported similar issues such as coughing, sore throat, stuffy nose, headache and difficulty breathing.

“I have a very rare lung disease and I haven’t been able to leave my house. Even at home, I’m coughing and finding it hard to breathe well,” posted Elya White.

Dr. Lisa Mu, medical health officer for Fraser Health, said the region has seen a recent increase in people coming into hospital emergency departments. But, she added that it is difficult to tell whether the spike is due to heat- or respiratory-related issues.

She said the main concern is for those with pre-existing conditions, such as COPD or heart problems. Mu advised generally healthy people to monitor symptoms and if they become serious, seek medical attention.

An air quality advisory issued Sunday in Metro Vancouver was expanded to the Fraser Valley on Monday due to high concentrations of fine particulate matter related to the wildfires.

According to the Ministry of Environment, the air quality health index on Monday in the central Fraser Valley was expected to reach seven (out of 10), putting it in the “high” range, while the eastern Valley was expected to reach a “moderate” level of five. Click here to see the current air quality reading.

Both regions were slated to reach highs of five yesterday (Tuesday) and were expected to remain at the “moderate” level today.

Metro Vancouver air quality planner Geoff Doerksen said fine particulate concentrations from the smoke hit levels never seen before across the Lower Mainland.

“Seeing these heavy smoke levels mix down to the ground is unprecedented for our region,” he said. The air quality objective for fine particulate is 25 micrograms per cubic metre measured as a 24-hour rolling average.

Readings four times that level – 100 micrograms or higher – were recorded Monday morning at stations in Metro Vancouver.

Other areas with particulate levels double to triple the objective included Surrey at 81.7, Langley at 67.2, Abbotsford at 66.2 and Chilliwack at 50. Hope was less smoky at 10.

“We’ve never seen this before,” Doerksen said. “We’re exceeding our fine particulate objectives at all of our stations in Metro Vancouver as well as our Fraser Valley stations.”

The hazy conditions are expected to persist until there’s a change in the current weather pattern.

The wildfires – including ones in Sechelt, Nelson and Pemberton – have raged due to dry conditions brought on by low precipitation and record temperatures.

Abbotsford recorded its driest June on record with just 12.1 mm of rain, compared to the normal amount of 74.8 mm. The previous record was 14.5 mm in 2009.

The city also recorded its warmest June on record with a mean monthly temperature of 18.8 degrees Celsius, compared to the normal mean temperature of 15.7. The previous record for June was 18.2 in 1958.

Records continue to be smashed in July. Abbotsford’s high of 36.3 degrees Celsius on Saturday (July 4) broke a 57-year-old record for that date. The previous record for July 4 was 31.7 degrees in 1958.

The warm spell is expected to persist throughout the week. While westerly winds could help alleviate some of the smoke issues on the ground, a ridge of high pressure is expected to trap much of it in the area.

– with files from Jeff Nagel, Alex Butler and Tyler Olsen

Abby and Mission in Stage 3 water restrictions

Dry weather and no snow pack have led to early Stage 3 water restrictions.

All Abbotsford and Mission residences and businesses receiving water from the municipal system must comply. Those with private wells and residents on Clearbrook Waterworks are exempt.

All lawn sprinkling is banned, but hand watering of lawns is allowed with a hose equipped with a spring-loaded shut-off device, or a hand-held container.

Watering of flowers, shrubs and vegetables – or washing boats and cars – can be done by hand or a hose with a shut-off nozzle. Sprinklers can be used for kids to play in, but the city suggests not to run them for long periods.

Parks staff in Abbotsford and Mission are not watering passive areas in city parks. Sand-based fields are watered on alternate days, and soil-based twice a week.

City officials say fields are expensive and must be watered to be maintained, as they are expensive to repair and re-seed. It would also impact community groups who pay to use sports fields if they are unusable in the fall.

Fields undergoing renovation are also excluded from the regulations, including fields at Townline, Upper Sumas, McMillan and Exhibition Park. Fields at Bateman, DeLair, Ellwood and Mill Lake are permitted to water outside the restriction schedule to keep them in playable condition.

Parks at Rotary Stadium and Abbotsford Exhibition Park are being watered with well water.

Stage 4 restrictions

City water use has gone down since the implementation of the lawn sprinkling ban.

However, if the city hits Stage 4 restrictions, all forms of lawn watering will be prohibited, as well as a ban on the use of city water for flower gardens, pools, fountains, washing cars or boats, and more.

For commercial operations, such as car washes and golf courses, and city properties, such as sports fields, the use of treated water would be at the discretion of the city engineer.