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SOS! Summer of Smoke: An Examination of the Health Effects of a Record Wildfire Season in Canada's High-Subarctic

22 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2018

See all articles by Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard

Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority; Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment; University of Calgary - Cumming School of Medicine

Caren Rose

University of British Columbia (UBC) - School of Population and Public Health; British Columbia Centre for Disease Control; Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcomes Research

Warren Dodd

University of Waterloo - School of Public Health and Health Systems

Katherine Kohle

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Craig Scott

Ecology North

Patrick Scott

University of Dundee

Ashlee Cunsolo

Labrador Institute of Memorial University

James Orbinski

York University - Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research; York University - Faculty of Health; University of Toronto - Dalla Lana School of Public Health

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Abstract

Background: The high-subarctic in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT) has warmed by 2- 2.5°C since the 1950’s. In 2014 it experienced extreme wildfires. We examined the epidemiologic health impacts of smoke, with interpretation informed by community-member interviews.

Methods: Poisson regression was used to examine the relationship of 24-hour mean PM2·5 levels with 2014’s cardiorespiratory ER visits. A comparison of salbutamol dispensations, clinic visits for respiratory symptoms, cardiorespiratory ER visits and hospital admissions in 2014 with non- smoky years (2012-2013) was also completed.

Findings: Median PM2·5 peaked at 320·3 μg/m3 49 in 2014, and was five-fold higher in 2014 compared to 2012, 2013 and 2015. In 2014, a 10 μg/m3 50 increase in PM2·5 was associated with an increase in ER visits of 11% for asthma and 6% for pneumonia. Compared to 2012/13, there was a 48% increase in dispensed salbutamol; significantly more clinic visits for asthma, pneumonia and cough; double the ER visits for asthma; and 45% more ER visits for pneumonia.

Interpretation: The impact of PM2·5 on respiratory health was high, possibly because prolonged smoke impacted indoor air quality or led to difficulty complying with "stay inside when smoky" messaging, which qualitative analysis found to be associated with isolation, decreased physical activity, disruptions to land-based activities, and Indigenous food security impacts. At-home air filtration, air shelters with recreation opportunities, attention to eco-anxiety, and "go outside when not smoky" messaging could improve wellness during wildfires.

Funding Statement: Health Canada's Climate Change and Health Adaptation Program for First Nations and Inuit Communities.

Declaration of Interests: No conflicts of interest exist.

Ethics Approval Statement: This project was reviewed and approved by the Stanton Territorial and Wilfrid Laurier University Research Ethics Boards, as well as the Aurora Research Institute.

Keywords: wildfires, climate change, asthma, pneumonia, Indigenous, smoke, adaptation, air quality, arctic, wellness, mental health, ecological grief, physical activity

Suggested Citation

Howard, Courtney and Rose, Caren and Dodd, Warren and Kohle, Katherine and Scott, Craig and Scott, Patrick and Cunsolo, Ashlee and Orbinski, James, SOS! Summer of Smoke: An Examination of the Health Effects of a Record Wildfire Season in Canada's High-Subarctic (March 10, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3260804 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3260804

Courtney Howard (Contact Author)

Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority ( email )

550 Byrne Rd
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2N1
Canada

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment ( email )

Yellowknife, NT
Canada

University of Calgary - Cumming School of Medicine ( email )

3330 Hospital Drive NW
Calgary, Alberta T2N 4N1
Canada

Caren Rose

University of British Columbia (UBC) - School of Population and Public Health

Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada

British Columbia Centre for Disease Control

Vancouver, BC
Canada

Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcomes Research

Vancouver, BC
Canada

Warren Dodd

University of Waterloo - School of Public Health and Health Systems

Waterloo, ON
Canada

Katherine Kohle

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Yellowknife, NT
Canada

Craig Scott

Ecology North

5016 Franklin Ave
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2P3
Canada

Patrick Scott

University of Dundee

Dundee, Scotland DD1 4HN
United Kingdom

Ashlee Cunsolo

Labrador Institute of Memorial University

219 Hamilton River Road
P.O. Box 490 St’n B
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL A0P 1E0
Canada

James Orbinski

York University - Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research

88 The Pond Rd suite 5021
Toronto, ON M3J 2S5
Canada

York University - Faculty of Health

4700 Keele St.
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

University of Toronto - Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Toronto, Ontario
Canada

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