Air quality index rises to high-risk category Thursday as smoky air intesifies

Air quality has hit a high-risk level in the GTA and is expected to worsen before fresh air moves in this weekend. Shauna Hunt with the latest from public health officials and why this warning should be taken seriously.

By Shauna Hunt and John Marchesan

The air quality across the GTA is expected to worsen before it improves.

The hazy air and smell of smoke that has been intensifying since Monday is expected to push the air quality index to one of its highest levels on Thursday.

“Thursday and Thursday night we are looking at a 9 and an 8 in the forecast which is also in the high-risk category,” Trudy Kidd with Environment Canada tells CityNews.

Most school boards across the GTA are heading the warnings. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says Thursday’s outdoor activities, including athletic events and field trips, will be moved indoors or rescheduled.

“We’ve taken steps over recent years, particularly since the the beginning of the pandemic, to upgrade the ventilation and the air quality within our buildings and that fortunately does pay off on days like these which I don’t recall ever happening before,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird.

Bird adds a decision on whether to move forward with outdoor activities for Friday will be made on Thursday.

“These are record levels of air pollution that we’ve had across the province in the last little while.”

People in the highest risk category are those with lung disease, heart disease, pregnant women, children and the elderly. While many may not be phased by this bout of bad air, one public health expert says these warnings should be taken seriously.

“Public health wise we can expect that this is contributing to an uptick in people visiting the emergency department, hospital admissions,” Jeff Brook of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health tells CityNews.

“We know that looking into past forest fires in Canada will increase the rate of mortality and those really feeling it will suffer and need to use more of their medications to cope.”

Brook is hopeful that this wave of pollution over the GTA will be short-lived but worries it could become a more common occurrence.

“We do know if we were to take samples of your blood and my blood today we would see that there’s increased inflammation in our bodies and that increased inflammation is something that over time if it persists, does lead to chronic disease,” explained Brook.

“I think it’s more important that we have conversations about whether this is the new normal or not with climate change and thinking about not wanting this to happen again.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said there are 54 active fires, including 29 not under control. As of Wednesday morning, 13 new fires had been discovered and fire rangers extinguished six fires on Tuesday.

The City of Toronto says they will be adjusting programming in response to the poor air quality caused by smoke plumes from the forest fires.

The Toronto Zoo is modifying its operating hours on Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. while limiting access to the outdoors for some animals, and limiting the amount of time staff and volunteers work outside.

Woodbine Entertainment has cancelled both its thoroughbred and standardbred racing events at Woodbine and Woodbine Mohawk Park on Thursday due to poor air quality.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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