Forest fires cause some of the worst air quality that British Columbians will ever experience and many studies show that smoke exacerbates asthma and other respiratory conditions. There has also been an increase in severe fire seasons in BC over the past two decades.

In 2010, one of the smokiest summers on record, Medical Health Officers in BC’s northern and interior health regions were doing active and ad hoc air quality and health surveillance. Because this was time consuming and difficult due to the dynamic nature of the smoke, the Medical Health Officers recommended the development of a province-wide passive surveillance system to track the health effects associated with exposure to forest fire smoke. In response to this recommendation, the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Environmental Health Services program established the BC Asthma Monitoring System (BCAMS) to help public health authorities understand daily smoke exposure and its effects across the province.

The BC Asthma Monitoring System uses data on asthma-related physician visits and pharmaceutical dispensations to evaluate whether populations are being affected by forest fire smoke. These data are combined with information about smoke from the air quality monitoring network, satellites, and the BlueSky pollution forecasting model, to provide near-real-time reports to Medical Health Officers. The BC Asthma Monitoring System provides Medical Health Officers with better information to help them make effective public health and emergency management decisions during forest fire season. This helps the people of BC make better informed decisions about protecting their health on smoky days.

When Medical Health Officers have near-real-time information about smoke exposure risks, they are better able to communicate with the public. This empowers patients and families to protect themselves against potential risks and helps explain why they may be experiencing increased respiratory issues.

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Title: Senior Scientist, Environmental Health Services

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