Posts Tagged ‘smog’

The heat wave is here: ‘There is a risk of people dying,’ regional medical officer says

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

The heat wave wilting the region has spawned another health hazard — bad air.

Smog is blanketing the area in levels high enough to prompt an advisory from Ontario’s Environment Ministry for the Waterloo-Wellington area, along with much of southern Ontario and into Quebec.

On Monday, the mercury soared to 33.2 C at the Region of Waterloo International Airport — hot, but not hot enough to reach the record of 34.4 C set in Kitchener on this date back in 1921. But factor in the humidity, and temperatures at the University of Waterloo weather station were feeling more like a blistering 44.5 C, even into the early evening.

Temperatures were expected to hit 32 or 33 C today through Thursday, with humidex values in the 40-degree range.

“This is going to be near record-setting,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Rob Kuhn.

While we swelter, Region of Waterloo Public Health is urging people to be cautious during smog alert days and heat waves. Overheating can be dangerous.

“There is a risk of people dying,” said regional medical officer of health Dr. Liana Nolan.

Nolan encourages people to stay hydrated and seek out cooler spaces during the hot weather.

“Even one break during the day can make a difference,” she said.

“Give your body a chance to cool down.”

Temperatures are forecast to drop back to 25 C on Friday — actually a degree shy of the seasonal norm.

But as long as the thermometer hits 32 C or more today and tomorrow, we’ll officially have seen a heat wave — defined as three or more consecutive days with readings of 32 C or higher.

“In my opinion, we’re due for one,” Kuhn said. Waterloo Region usually experiences one or two heat waves every couple of years, but there have been some years where we don’t quite make it.

Kitchener has been encouraging people to use city facilities as cooling centres during heat waves for a couple of years, and of course public swimming pools and malls are other options. Hildebrand also encourages people to also check on family, friends and neighbours, especially isolated adults and seniors at greater risk of heat-related illness.

When the temperature spikes, so do the calls to local humane societies about dogs left in vehicles.

Gary Boes, inspector for the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society, doesn’t understand why people still leave animals in cars on a sweltering day. In just minutes, the situation can be deadly and parking in the shade or opening windows makes little difference.

“Literally, they are being cooked alive,” Boes said.

He warns people that animal cruelty charges have recently been revamped provincially and federally with hefty jail sentences and fines for causing an animal distress, including being left in a hot car.

People should take the same precautions for pets as themselves on hot, muggy days. Like humans, animals with medical conditions and those old and young are especially susceptible to the heat.

“It’s not good for us. It’s not good for them,” Boes said.

Don’t go for a walk in the middle of the day with a dog, carry water, and leave pets at home when doing errands. Animals kept outdoors should have food, water and shelter, and be watched closely and brought inside when it’s too hot.

Despite the rising temperature and smog level, local emergency departments haven’t seen a surge in heat-related illness or respiratory complaints.

Those at higher risk of suffering serious health problems, which includes people with existing heart or respiratory problems, children and seniors, in particular should take precautions when the air quality is poor. Remain indoors in a cool environment as much as possible, refrain from strenuous outdoor activity and seek immediate medical help if symptoms worsen.

Even people who are healthy should avoid or limit strenuous outdoor exercise until air quality improves. If unavoidable, take extra breaks, drink more water and avoid high-traffic areas. Breathing problems and eye, nose and throat irritations can happen from exposure to poor air.

Smog is a mixture of air pollutants, the two main ingredients being ground-level ozone and particulate matter. Smog can form in most climates where industry or cities spew large amounts of air pollution, although it’s worse in hot, sunny weather.

Smog caused more than 29 million minor illnesses, 59,000 emergency room visits, 16,000 hospital admissions and more than 5,800 premature deaths in Ontario in 2005, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

Relatively few smog advisories were issued in the past couple of years in Ontario. Last year, there were three advisories lasting just five days and eight advisories totalling 17 days in 2008. The summer of 2007 suffered from many bad air days, with 13 smog advisories covering 39 days. The worst year in the past 15 was 2005, which had 15 advisories over 53 days.

The Independent Electricity System Operator reported on its website that the high temperatures had pushed the power demand to 24,567 megawatts at 5 p.m. — exceeding the day’s predicted peak of 24,351.

Around the same time, a power outage left large swaths of Toronto in the dark and also turned out the lights on Prince Philip presenting the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, a program that encourages youth to participate in community services, at the Royal York Hotel when the lights went out.

The emergency power kicked in and Prince Philip soldiered on, presenting the awards in the dimly lit room, joking with parents in the audience.

Hydro One spokesperson Daffyd Roderick said about 240,000 customers were without power at the height of the outage caused by a fire at a transformer station. About 1,000 megawatts were taken out of the grid.

The outage was substantial enough to cause blips throughout the province, with reports of the lights flickering as far away as Ottawa. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Source: The heat wave is here: ‘There is a risk of people dying,’ regional medical officer says – news.therecord

Date: 06 July 2010

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