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Air quality risk in Ottawa high as wildfire smoke blankets the city

A special air quality statement remains in effect for the National Capital Region.

Environment Canada says there are high levels of air pollution due to smoke from forest fires. Environment Canada's air quality health index was at its highest level of risk all morning. It dropped to a level of 7/10 at 5 p.m. Tuesday, which still represents a high risk. A thunderstorm had moved across the region that hour.

“Smoke plumes from local forest fires as well as forest fires in Quebec have resulted in deteriorated air quality. Poor air quality may persist through most of this week,” Environment Canada said in a statement. “Air quality and visibility due to wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour.”

All Ottawa area school boards have cancelled outdoor events due to the smoke, including the OCSB's elementary school track and field meet and the OCDSB's Junior Region 1 track meet. The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association games scheduled for Tuesday have also been rescheduled. Students will remain indoors during recess and lunch hours.

The Ottawa Redblacks also cancelled their outdoor practice, saying on social media that player safety is their first priority. The team ended up training inside the Aberdeen Pavilion.

“Lucky enough to have a building like this next to the stadium,” said Adrian Sciarra, president of the Ottawa Redblacks. “We just couldn’t practice outside. The air quality is not at a level that we think is safe for our players, so we moved inside.” 

Officials warn wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health. 

“People with lung disease (such as asthma) or heart disease, older adults, children, pregnant people, and people who work outdoors are at higher risk of experiencing health effects caused by wildfire smoke,” Environment Canada says. Overnight it will be partly cloudy and small chance of showers, clearing near midnight with “widespread smoke.”

Ottawa Public Health says when the air quality is low because of pollution, such as wildfire smoke, people should reduce time outdoors when outdoor air pollution levels are high. Avoid strenuous outdoor work, exercise, and playtime; stay indoors in a cool, well-ventilated place and plan indoor activities for children.

If you must be outside, try to schedule your activities early in the morning when pollution levels are lowest.

If you experience symptoms such as tightness in your chest, wheezing, or shortness of breath, seek medical attention. 

Poor air quality may persist through most of this week.

“I've lived in ottawa all my life. I've never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Tom Kovesi, a lungs specialist at CHEO. “These particles can travel deep on the lungs, they can cause inflammation and irritation within the lining of the lungs and can get into the blood stream. These sorts of levels can trigger asthma attacks.” 

OTTAWA FORECAST

Ottawa can expect a mainly cloudy sky with widespread smoke Tuesday evening, with a risk of a thunderstorm. Clouds should clear after midnight but smoke will remain. The overnight low is 11 C.

Widespread smoke is in the forecast for Wednesday with a high of 17 C.

Thursday's forecast is cloudy with a 30 per cent chance of showers, but Environment Canada says poor air quality may persist through most of this week.

The smoke forecast from firesmoke.ca shows smoke moving over the region through Thursday.

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