Record-breaking wildfire smoke emissions in Canada have reached unprecedented levels, with plumes of smoke traveling across the Atlantic to Europe. The wildfire season in Canada typically peaks in mid-July, but this year, fires began as early as May and continue to burn intensely.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has described the start of the wildfire season as "unprecedented." The warm and dry conditions are expected to contribute to higher-than-normal fire activity throughout the 2023 season, according to the Canadian government's fire season outlook.
Currently, nearly 500 wildfires are burning across Canada, including regions in western Canada such as British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwestern Territories, as well as in eastern Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Of these fires, almost 260 are classified as out of control, and more than 17.7 million acres have been scorched this year.
According to a report from Copernicus, the European Union's Earth observation program, the smoke emissions from these wildfires are the largest annual estimate ever recorded for Canada. Since 2003, Copernicus's Global Fire Assimilation System has been measuring wildfire smoke emissions, and the current estimate stands at approximately 160 megatons of carbon emissions.
The early start of the wildfire season, combined with persistently dry conditions and high temperatures, has resulted in no clear end in sight for the fires. Copernicus highlights that the smoke has led to significantly degraded air quality throughout North America and has even reached the European coast since the second week of June.
In the United States, air quality alerts were issued for the Great Lakes region, with parts of Wisconsin experiencing the worst air quality in the world. The smoke from Canadian wildfires has been affecting various regions in the U.S. since May, leading to air quality alerts in states such as Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona. By June, the Northeastern states experienced air quality alerts due to fires in Nova Scotia, and major cities like New York City saw deteriorating air quality, reaching hazardous levels.
On June 21 and 22, an intensification of wildfires resulted in a strong episode of long-range smoke, carrying high levels of aerosol optical depth and carbon monoxide to Europe by Monday. Copernicus expects air quality in Europe to be affected until Thursday.
The unprecedented scale of the wildfires and the resulting smoke emissions highlight the urgent need for effective measures to address climate change, reduce wildfire risks, and protect air quality. Governments, communities, and individuals must prioritize efforts to mitigate the causes and consequences of wildfires while striving for a cleaner and healthier environment for all.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Unhealthy Air
Breathing clean and fresh air is vital for our well-being, but in today's world, polluted air is a harsh reality for many. Whether you live in a city with high pollution levels or are affected by seasonal air quality issues, it's crucial to take steps to protect yourself from unhealthy air. Here are some valuable tips to help you safeguard your health and breathe easier:
Stay Informed: Stay updated on air quality indexes and forecasts for your area. Websites, apps, and local authorities often provide real-time information on air quality. Being aware of the current air quality conditions will help you plan your activities and take necessary precautions when pollution levels are high.
Create a Safe Haven: Ensure that your home is a sanctuary of clean air. Use high-quality air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters to remove harmful particles from indoor air. Seal any gaps or leaks in windows and doors to prevent outdoor pollutants from entering your living space. Consider using indoor plants known for their air-purifying properties, such as snake plants, peace lilies, and spider plants.
Avoid Peak Pollution Times: Pollution levels can vary throughout the day. Typically, traffic congestion and industrial activity contribute to higher pollution levels during rush hours. If possible, plan outdoor activities for times when pollution levels are lower, such as early mornings or evenings.
Filter Your Indoor Air: Invest in air filters for your home's HVAC system. These filters can capture dust, pollen, and other particles, improving the overall air quality indoors. Regularly clean or replace the filters to ensure their effectiveness.
Use Protective Masks: When outdoor pollution levels are high, wearing a mask designed to filter out pollutants can be beneficial. Look for masks that are specifically designed for this purpose and provide a high level of filtration efficiency. N95 masks are commonly recommended for protection against particulate matter.
Keep Indoor Air Fresh: Proper ventilation is crucial for maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Open windows and doors when outdoor air quality is good to let fresh air circulate through your home. Use exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms to remove pollutants generated during cooking or bathing.
Limit Outdoor Activities: When air quality is poor, especially during times of high pollution or smog alerts, try to limit your outdoor activities, especially strenuous exercises. Physical exertion during times of poor air quality can lead to increased exposure to pollutants, which can be harmful to your respiratory system.
Create a Clean Environment: Regularly clean your living spaces to minimize dust and allergens. Dust surfaces, vacuum carpets and upholstery, and mop floors frequently. This helps reduce the accumulation of pollutants indoors and improves overall air quality.
Stay Hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water can help keep your respiratory system hydrated and support its natural defense mechanisms. Proper hydration can help your body flush out toxins and cope better with pollutants in the air.
Promote Green Solutions: Support and advocate for environmentally friendly practices. Encourage the use of clean energy sources, participate in tree-planting initiatives, and promote sustainable transportation alternatives. By taking collective action, we can contribute to long-term improvements in air quality.
Remember, protecting yourself from unhealthy air is essential for your overall health and well-being. By following these tips, you can minimize your exposure to pollutants and enjoy cleaner air, both indoors and outdoors.