Celebrating Clean Air Day in the Apocalypse

By Jake Cole

Improvised box fan air filterI’m sure you’ve noticed the apocalypse look to the air outside right now. It results from forest fires burning nearby in Ontario and Quebec. It really is bad news. Just check the air quality reading for Ottawa right now on the provincial government website. Scroll down to Ottawa and look at the PM2.5 scale. Today, at 7:00am, it was reading 391. Kingston was worse at 452!

PM2.5 refers to little particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns. A micron is about 40 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. These sized particles can get into your lungs and your bloodstream. They can even get into a womb. They are super dangerous and you don’t want to be spending much time outside with those readings as high as they are.

Related: Watch Jake Cole talk about this air pollution on CTV News

But, is 392 a high reading? I recently led a project to measure air quality in Ottawa for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation called Breathe Easy. I never saw a PM2.5 reading, anywhere across the city that was over 60. The most polluted cities in the world right now are not as bad as this.

What are our health authorities telling us? Not a lot. They should be doing more. Based on what I know about air pollution, people should not be spending any time outdoors right now unless they absolutely have to. And if you have to go outside you should get out one of your Covid masks to wear when you’re out there.

If you are staying at home, keep your doors and windows closed. If you can, run your furnace blower and ensure that you have a good, high quality clean filter on it. That will help clear the air at least somewhat, in your home.

Another idea is to get a box fan. Buy a filter that fits exactly on it, tape the filter on the inlet side of the fan, and run it continuously. I have one going now (see photo above) and when I was leading my Breathe Easy air quality project, I found that it did markedly reduce the level of PM2.5 in the house to a more healthy level, about 5 on the PM2.5 scale in about 12 hours. You can get more information about the idea from this CBC broadcast.

Filter polluted by the air in Ottawa[Photo: a home made, indoor air purifier, that I’ve been using in my house for the last two days. I’ve just changed out the old filter that was on the unit and put on the new one. You can see, quite easily, how much dusty air the old filter on the left has on it compared to the new one.]

Canadian Tire and other home stores sell these fans and filters like the ones I just bought today. See photos below.

Am I overreacting to this situation? Maybe, but as mentioned, I never saw any PM2.5 readings anywhere near as bad as this when leading the Breathe Easy project. I am rather surprised that our health authorities are not issuing stay at home advisories and similar warnings. There are bound to be some health concerns that young children and health compromised people will be experiencing.

Anyway, I write this to you just for your information and to recommend possible actions you can take. CBC’s morning radio program, The Current, just had a useful bit on its program yesterday and I gather other news media are starting to cover this unprecedented air quality concern.

Related: Find out more about the work our Wild Child Programs are doing to help families and kids who have had to evacuate because of the wildfires in this recent article.

Air filter Box fan