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Metro Vancouver air quality among worst in the world due to wildfire haze

Last Updated Sep 11, 2020 at 12:44 pm PST

A comparison of the sky above Vancouver City Hall before and after smoke from U.S. wildfires was blown in. (Credit: Leon Thompson/Submitted)

The air quality around Metro Vancouver is worse than what you'd experience in Beijing right now

Wildfire smoke is wafting into the region from south of the border

Air quality could possibly worsen this weekend, Metro Vancouver says

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The air quality in Metro Vancouver is even more unbreathable than what you’d experience in Beijing right now.

The region now ranks among the worst in the world, mainly because of smoke blowing up here from wildfires on the U.S. west coast, according to IQAir.

Vancouver, which has been moving up and down the list, is among the top five major cities for bad air quality, with the pollution level listed as “unhealthy.”

(Courtesy IQAir)

The air quality health index from the province also shows a deterioration.

Metro Vancouver’s Superintendent of Environmental Monitoring and Sampling, Ken Reid, says there’s a good chance the situation could get worse over the weekend.

“Conditions have changed today (Friday). We’re seeing winds coming from the south, moving wildfire smoke from Oregon and Washington state fires into our region,” he tells NEWS 1130. “We expect that now to continue to worsen.”

An air quality advisory, which was first put in place on Tuesday, continues for the Metro Vancouver region. Reid says while there’s been “relatively less” smoke in the air in the days after Tuesday, modelling shows things may get worse again.

“There is some uncertainty there,” he admits. “We don’t know for sure whether all of the predicted wildfire smoke is at ground level or higher up in the atmosphere. So, at this point, we’re relying on a lot of our monitoring data coming in from the Air Quality Monitoring Network, and we can see fine particulate matter rising across the network.”

Regardless of that uncertainty, Reid says there will be fine particular matter and wildfire smoke “above us or in the valley, so we may certainly be breathing it at ground level.”

If the haze is “at elevation,” Reid explains that could look like a darker sky or dramatic orange and red sunsets.

People with underlying health conditions

The smoky air is expected to create some issues for people with chronic, underlying medical or other conditions

Reid says it’s recommended these people reduce outdoor physical activity until the advisory is lifted.

“That may very well be several days, so it could go until Monday,” he explains. “That’s the time where people certainly want to be aware of their own conditions, and to be managing their symptoms as they can and reducing outdoor physical activity.”

According to Reid, Metro Vancouver is seeing concentrations around 100 micrograms per cubic metre. “That’s some of the highest hourly average for fine particulate that we’re seeing around the network stations.”

Similar concentrations were seen in previous years when B.C. has been impacted by wildfires, he says, pointing to years like 2017 and 2018.

“I think it will be quite similar to that. But, as I said, there’s certainly a fair amount of uncertainty right now as to what those concentrations will be,” he says. “So, we’re relying on our monitoring network as we go to give us that information.”

You can check the air quality around the Lower Mainland here.

Air quality along U.S. West Coast worst in the world

Meanwhile, the air quality in Washington state is approaching a “very unhealthy level,” with the air quality index reading near or above the 200-level in many parts.

Wildfire smoke is piling up and moving through Puget Sound, and is expected the linger for at least the rest of the day.

Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco are listed by IQAir as among the cities with the worst air quality ratings in the world.