GTHA schools will hold indoor recesses, youth sports cancelled due to poor air quality

As northeastern winds bring forest fire smoke into the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario, health experts CityNews spoke with urged caution and shared advice for minimizing effects. Nick Westoll reports.

Some Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA) schools will be holding indoor recesses on Wednesday due to the poor forecast air quality index values.

York Region District School Board emailed parents of students Tuesday afternoon to let them know of this decision.

“As you may be aware, Environment Canada has issued an air quality statement for the Greater Toronto area advising that high levels of air pollution are possible due to smoke from forest fires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario,” said the YRDSB the email.

“The health and safety of our students and staff is our priority. We want to assure families that we will continue to monitor the situation and the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) for the region, and are prepared to take any precautions or measures needed.”

The school board also stated that any outdoor activities planned for June 7 will be rescheduled or modified to be held indoors.

In a statement on Tuesday night, the Toronto District School Board said it was also taking precautionary measures due to the smoke.

“After reviewing the Air Quality Health Index and guidance from Environment Canada and Toronto Public Health, all strenuous outdoor activities, including athletic events, planned for tomorrow and Thursday will be rescheduled or moved indoors where possible,” it said.

“While outdoor recesses may continue – students are encouraged to avoid strenuous activity and schools will, if supervision levels allow, make every attempt to accommodate those who wish to stay inside or are experiencing symptoms such as coughing or throat irritation.”

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will also be keeping students indoors on Wednesday and will monitor air quality over the course of the week.

Youth sports such as soccer and t-ball across the GTHA have also been cancelled for the evening of June 6 due to poor air quality.

Ontario Soccer in partnership with the York Region Soccer Association announced that any games for the evening of June 6, such as that of the  Newmarket Soccer Club, will not proceed but make-up date options will be scheduled for the missed sessions.

The club sent a message to parents stating that the governing bodies are “encouraging that soccer activities do not commence for this evening.”

In Mississauga, Clarkson Lorne Park T-Ball announced that it would stop outdoor activities following the recommended action from Environment Canada, stating “we felt this was the right decision to make.”

The current AQHI is 7 for Mississauga, which is considered high-risk.

RELATED: Environment Canada warns of poor air quality for GTA due to wildfire smoke

As Toronto and much of southern Ontario deal with the effects of forest fire smoke, experts CityNews spoke with urged caution and to stay indoors as much as possible.

“It’s more than just a campfire, it’s large, large amounts of trees that are burning (and a) large volume of smoke can have negative effects,” Devin Phillips, an assistant professor of respiratory physiology at York University, said Tuesday afternoon.

“There [are] several different types of research showing that excessive smoke inhalation, whether it’s firefight[ing] or fire from wildfires … any little bit of exposure is not going to help your lung health so we need to try and avoid this at all costs.”

Phillips encouraged people to exercise indoors while smoke remains prevalent in the region.

“When we breathe during exercise, we breathe a lot more air in and out. So we’re going to start bringing in more of those particles from the smoke. Again, the more we breathe in, the more we are exposed to it and it can lead to some airway inflammation, potentially developing symptoms,” he said.

“Even if you are a normal, healthy individual and if you’re out exercising in the smoke or going for a walk and you feel a little bit different, I would strongly advise you to listen (and) don’t ignore those symptoms.”

It’s a sentiment Matthew Adams, a professor and the director of the Centre for Urban Environments at the University of Toronto, echoed.

“It’s just not a great time to be outside,” he said.

In the short-term while the GTA deals with the current bout of smoke, Adams said people should be prepared to impacted differently.

“(People might) experience eye, nose, throat irritation. If you already have asthma though, it’s often going to bring that on. You might need puffer or even in the worst case, you need a trip to the hospital.”

Here are additional tips provided by experts to address and minimize the impacts of forest fire smoke:

  • Consider wearing a N-95 mask for lengthy periods outdoors when air quality is poor
  • Turn on air conditioning, use HEPA filters if possible
  • If you don’t have air conditioning, visit a mall or a public place with central air for a break
  • Pay attention to weather statements and air quality advisories

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