News: Smoke sparks health alert

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Published in the August 20 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News


Smoke sparks health alert

A blanket of thick smoke that enveloped the city on Thursday is expected to linger until Sunday.

The haze, which drifted in from forest fires in British Columbia, has sent a number of people with asthma to hospital, say health officials.

“At the U of A hospital they have seen a significant increase in people coming through with asthma-related problems … both young and old,” said Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services.

The smoke also caused a spike in 911 calls, said Tim Wilson with Edmonton Rescue Services.

Wilson said nearly 50 phone calls from people reporting smoke in their communities were made in less than an hour — a high and unusual number of calls for a single incident that didn’t actually involve a local fire.

People were also donning face masks while attending the Edmonton International Fringe Festival in Old Strathcona.

Albertans — both healthy and those with breathing problems — are warned to stay inside and avoid outdoor physical activity until the smoke clears.

The smoke will likely affect various outdoor marathons and festivals set to take place this weekend.

“It poses a health risk. It’s not a good idea to run a marathon or do any form of physical exertion when the conditions are like this,” said Dr. Andr√© Corriveau, chief medical officer of health.

Despite those warnings, the marathons and festivals planned for the weekend are still set to take place — but with some adjustments.

“Our medical team is bringing additional staff and equipment for the event,” said Tom Keogh, event director of Sunday’s Canadian Derby Marathon.

“We will be ready to take care of (participants) should something happen.”

The weekend’s Dragon Boat Festival at Louise McKinney Riverfront Park is also set to go, despite the air-quality conditions.

“We’re just going to focus on the festival,” said festival co-ordinator Christine Johnson.

Johnson said it will be up to boaters to determine whether participating will be harmful for themselves, though extra medical staff will be on site.

John Stanton, with the Running Room, is banking on the weather to get rid of the haze in time for the weekend’s marathons.

“If it rains we will have good weather conditions for running,” Stanton said.

But Erin Despas, who had planned on doing a 5k walk for the annual Hope Classic Run Walk and Wheel for spina bifida on Saturday, said if the smoke remains, she’ll have to pull out.

“This morning I went outside and I rushed back in because I was choking,” said Despas, who has spina bifida.

“I won’t be going (if there’s still smoke). I can’t go outside at all.”

The haze is affecting much of the province and is continuing to move eastward.

“The wind is pushing the smoke through Alberta and right into Saskatchewan,” said Ogho Ikhalo, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment.

The Air Qual ity Index, which ranks conditions as either good, fair, poor or very poor, was drifting between fair and poor on Thursday and is expected to remain less than ideal for several days, said Ikhalo.

“Right now, we know air quality conditions are going to fluctuate right up until Sunday and then we’ll re-evaluate,” she said.

Dr. Richard Musto, medical officer of health for the Calgary zone of Alberta Health Services, said, on average, the air quality is less than ideal about 10% of the year.

With files from Jenna McMurray, QMI Agency

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