Stay inside - and stay out of the vicinity of Westminster Pier.
That's the official health advice from Fraser Health and the City of New Westminster, who are advising residents of New Westminster and surrounding communities that fine particulate matter in the air is impacting air quality in the area. The presence of fine particulate matter in the air is due to wildfire smoke from outside the region, in addition to smoke resulting from Sunday night's devastating fire at Westminster Pier Park.
“At this time, we are advising people, particularly those who have chronic underlying health conditions or acute infections, to refrain from participating in any outdoor physical activity and to remain indoors as much as possible while still ensuring they maintain adequate physical distancing,” said Dr. Aamir Bharmal, Fraser Health medical health officer, in a press release. “The best thing you can do at this time is to avoid the smoke. Minimize time outdoors, and don’t spend time near the pier.”
Fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, refers to airborne solid or liquid droplets with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (µm) or less. PM2.5 can easily penetrate indoors because of their small size. Exposure to fine particulate matter can be a health concern for people with underlying health conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and/or diabetes, individuals with respiratory infections such as COVID-19, pregnant women and infants, children and older adults. Individuals who are socially marginalized may also be at elevated risk.
In addition to particulate matter, the pier’s pilings are burning. The press release notes those pilings are covered by creosote, a wood preservative made up of a mixture of chemicals. Short-term exposure to creosote may cause further respiratory irritation.
Given the current poor air quality, residents of New Westminster and surrounding areas should limit all strenuous activities outdoors and keep windows closed. Those who are at-risk, including children and the elderly, should avoid outdoor physical exertion.
Current health advice is that workplaces, schools and daycares do not need to close but should limit any associated outdoor activities.
Any person experiencing symptoms such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing should visit the emergency department. In an emergency, call 9-1-1.
Fraser Health and the City of New Westminster are regularly reviewing Metro Vancouver air quality reports and modelling of PM2.5 in New Westminster and will provide updates as the situation evolves.