Smoke Pollution & Your Health

There is solid scientific evidence of a strong link between air pollution levels and impacts on human health. Locally, recent data from Island Health indicates that in the Cowichan Local Health Area, admissions rates for children with respiratory diseases averaged 70% higher than provincial rates (for the period 1998 to 2012).

Burning garbage or yard waste in your backyard spreads invisible, toxic chemicals throughout the region. Be a good neighbour and drop off yard waste for free or garbage for a small fee at any CVRD recycling depot. 
Here’s a list of some of the chemicals released when yard waste and garbage are burned:
Dioxins, furans, arsenic, mercury, PCBs, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, hydrochloric acid, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
These chemicals and fine particulate matter can remain in the air as smoke for prolonged periods of time, and can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. In the short-term, exposure to smoke can cause headaches, coughing or wheezing, nausea and rashes. Over the longer-term, exposure to fine particulates and smoke pollution is associated with a significant rise in premature deaths from respiratory and heart disease. It’s also linked to emergency room visits, hospitalization, and time off from work and school. Long term exposure in pregnant women can cause premature births and low birth weights. Senior citizens, children and people with pre-existing illnesses like asthma, heart or lung disease are the most vulnerable. For these individuals, smoke pollution can have a dramatic impact on quality of life, as the presence of smoke often means that outdoor activities must be severely limited or avoided altogether. 

Do you need to burn?

Remember, what goes up must come down. Help clear the air by recycling your waste instead of burning it. Click here for more information on alternatives to burning.

Open burning viewed from Mount Prevost

Open Burning Viewed from Mt. Prevost- January 13, 2012_thumb.JPG
Keep tabs on local air quality by using one of these great resources offered by the BC Ministry of Environment. These tools are essential for anyone considering a burn or anyone whose health is affected by poor air quality.

Venting Index – The BC Ministry of Environment’s Venting Index (also available by phoning 1-888-281-2992) provides smoke-control forecasts for the current and following day, as well as archived smoke-control forecasts for the last several years. If the Ventilation Index indicates POOR or FAIR, then smoke that results from burning will tend to build up, causing air pollution. To avoid such pollution, outdoor burning is restricted when the index is POOR or FAIR.
Air Quality Health Index – The BC Ministry of Environment also hosts an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) which provides rolling, three hour averages of air pollutant levels including nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and particulate matter. The AQHI is a useful tool for residents with pre-existing health conditions, who can use it to check the quality of outdoor air before heading off to work or play.

Air Quality Advisories – These can be issued by the Ministry of Environment when pollutant concentrations approach or exceed predetermined limits, or when degraded-air-quality episodes are expected to continue or worsen. An advisory may also be issued to implement a local or regional burning ban (such as a limit on industrial emissions and/or wood stove use) when the potential for seriously degraded air quality is identified. Air Quality Advisories are ended when pollutant concentrations fall, or are expected to fall, to more normal levels. Check the BC Air Quality website for more Information on Air Quality Advisories.