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Wildfire smoke makes Ottawa's air among the worst in the world Wednesday

Some residents are wearing N95 masks outside and outdoor activities are being cancelled, as the blanket of smoky haze from wildfires in northwestern Ontario and Quebec covers Ottawa for a third straight day.

The smoky haze and the poor air quality has prompted schools and the city of Ottawa to postpone outdoor activities and the Ottawa Redblacks moved practice indoors.

The air quality in Ottawa is among the worst in the world as wildfire smoke blankets the capital on June 7, 2023.

Ottawa had the worst air quality of any major city in the world Wednesday morning. Health officials warn people with heart or lung conditions, older adults, children and people who work outdoors are at a higher risk of experiencing health effects due to the smoke.

"I woke up with a sore throat… so we sealed the house and turned off our air exchanger," said Patricia Hardie. She stopped by the local pharmacy to pick up two boxes of KN95 masks. "This is a new thing for us wearing masks outside than inside."

Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for Ottawa, with the air quality at 10+ "very high risk" at 12 p.m.

It dropped to 7 by 3 p.m. and again to 6 by 4 p.m.

"Smoke plumes from forest fires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario have resulted in deteriorated air quality. Air quality may improve on Thursday before deteriorating again on Friday," the weather agency 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."

In this GOES-16 GeoColor and fire temperature satellite image taken Tuesday, June 6, 2023 at 6:40 p.m. EDT and provided by CIRA/NOAA, smoke from wildfires burning in the Canadian Provinces of Quebec, center, and Ontario, left, drift southward. (CIRA/NOAA via AP)

Ottawa's air quality index was "very unhealthy" at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to IQair, the worst quality of air of any major metropolitan area in the world, ahead of Delhi, India and New York City.

The amount of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Ottawa's air measured at 391 at 7 a.m. Delhi had an air quality index reading of 191, while New York City was at 160.

Kingston's air quality was listed as "hazardous."

According to Environment Canada's air quality health index (AQHI) conditions should improve Thursday, with a "low risk" forecast of 3 for Friday.

School boards are advising schools to cancel outdoor recess and activities and Run Ottawa says the Global Running Day festivities have been postponed until next week due to the weather.

The Ottawa Redblacks cancelled practice in Ottawa for a second straight day, and moved practice to The Nation Sports Complex due to the smoke.

The federal government said Wednesday that it has not issued a directive for public servants on air quality as a result of the wildfires.

"Each deputy head is responsible for safeguarding the health and safety of their workforce and workplace," said Treasury Board Secretariat spokesperson Martin Potvin in an email to CTV News Ottawa. "Deputy heads make decisions for their respective organizations in consultation with their departmental Occupational Health & Safety committees, taking into consideration the specific situation and requirements of their organization’s employees and workplaces/buildings."

Increase in emergency visits

Medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches says there has been an increase in visits to Ottawa hospital emergency rooms due to the smoky conditions.

"We've seen that increase over the last 24 hours. People with respiratory conditions like asthma and others might feel this first," Etches told CTV News Ottawa. 

"But we also know from the data elsewhere that people with heart conditions, it can have an impact over time."

Etches recommends people "move indoors" for recreational activities during the poor quality days.

Etches says if you do wear a mask outdoors, you should wear an N95 mask.

"It's well fitted, doesn't have gaps," Etches said. "That can block more of the small particles. It doesn't change some of the gases that are in smoke; those gases are still going to come through but it can make a difference for some people."

The Air Quality Index shows a "very high risk" 10+ for Ottawa, Kingston and Belleville on Wednesday. The Air Quality Index is at "high risk" 8 for Cornwall.

The Carleton Place District Memorial Hospital said the smoke in the air is making it impossible to ensure fresh air in the operating room. 

"The Operating Room functions on 100% fresh air coming into it and the smoke from the forest fire has made that impossible," a statement from the hospital said. "Some hospitals are able to recirculate and sterilize air inside their buildings, but Carleton Place District Memorial Hospital's aging infrastructure does now allow that."

Two surgeries had to be cancelled Tuesday because of the smoke.

"The good news is that the operating room was back up and running today for specific procedures that did not require an incision. We will be assessing the situation on a day-by-day basis." 

A cyclist makes their way along a bike path into the downtown core wearing a mask, Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

City of Ottawa facilities

Outdoor recreational programs and leagues at city of Ottawa facilities will be cancelled again today due to the poor air quality.

The city of Ottawa says all outdoor programs and leagues are cancelled today, and all drop-in programs that operate outdoors will move indoors, where possible.

Sports fields, ball diamonds and city parks will remain open for use.

The city says all splash pads will remain open.

Run Ottawa held off its festivities for Global Running Day.

"The air quality isn’t optimum. We don’t think it’s necessarily the safest thing for people to be out and exercising and because of that we are postponing," said Run Ottawa executive director Ian Fraser.  

Patios across the city also sat empty.

"No one sat here yesterday and the day before too," said Crust & Crate Lansdowne general manager Pulkit Taneja. "At Lansdowne, you want to sit outside, have some nice cocktails, but now because of the weather everyone is inside." 

Crossing Guard Shifts

The Ottawa Safety Council now says crossing guards will be at street corners after school today, despite the smoky weather.

The council had initially said the afternoon shifts for 300 plus cross guards would be cancelled due to the smoke from wildfires hanging over Ottawa.

Just after 12 p.m., the council said with schools still open, it will continue with crossing guard shifts.

"However, due to ongoing poor air quality, we will have unpredictable coverage across the city."

A look at the smoke over Lansdowne and downtown Ottawa from the Claridge Icon building on Somerset Street in Centretown. (Dave Charbonneau/CTV News Ottawa)

Ottawa weather 

Environment Canada's forecast calls for "widespread smoke" in the evening with a 30 per cent chance of showers and a low of 10 C. The AQHI for Wednesday night is 6, or a moderate risk.

Thursday will be cloudy with a 30 per cent chance of showers in the afternoon. High 20 C. The AQHI forecast is 4, or a moderate risk.

The outlook for Friday calls for clouds with a 30 per cent chance of showers. High 17 C. The AQHI forecast is 3, or a low risk.

Saturday will be cloudy with a slight chance of showers. High 22 C.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Jackie Perez. Top Stories

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