Canada Air Filtration Advisory: How Can Canadians Protect Their Lungs As Wildfire Smoke Spreads? Updated July 28, 2023


In this blog post Camfil Canada expert Berni Baier weighs in on wildfires in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, and elsewhere and the effects of wildfire smoke across Canada. The article explains how we can use air filters to reduce the impact on our health.

While wildfires are typical in Canada during summer months, there has been a shift in fire activity – more fires are burning for a much longer fire season. With wildfires tearing through Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and additional fire restrictions in other provinces due to high fire danger levels, communities across Canada must ask themselves about the health impacts of exposure to smoke particles this wildfire season. Further, Canadians should ask a more critical question: How can we protect ourselves against wildfire smoke? See a map of wildfires in British Columbia here and Alberta here and a map of wildfire danger areas in Canada here

What Are the Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke and Why Is It Harmful to Canadians? 

It is first important to note that even locations thousands of kilometers away from the fire can be seriously affected. This is because the wildfire smoke rises from grasslands and forests, and can then be carried for long distances downwind. Skies can turn hazy red due to particulate matter scattering the sunrays – these particles travel from wildfires hundreds of kilometres away. As smoke travels, it can become a major source of air pollution across numerous Canadian regions. FireWork, Canada’s Wildfire Smoke Prediction System, cites that gaseous pollutants and fine particulate matter contained within the fine smoke can be a grave risk to public health, particularly for seniors, children, and vulnerable people with heart or lung problems.

Smoke from wildfires fills the sky in Alberta. Snow capped mountains are in the background. Text on top of image reads "How to Protect Your Lungs from Wildfire Smoke."

Wildfire smoke contains several hazardous pollutants, including:  

  • ozone
  • sulphur dioxide 
  • nitrogen dioxide 
  • carbon monoxide 
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs) 
  • water vapour
  • fine particulate matter 

The Government of Canada, as well as other global health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), regard PM2.5 as the greatest risk. Once inhaled, smoke can cause mild symptoms such as headaches, a cough, and throat irritation. More serious short-term symptoms can include dizziness, wheezing, and heart palpitations. While the full extent of the damage of long-term exposure to fine particulate matter is still under research, exposure over time can lead to the worsening of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions (such as asthma, COPD, and ischemic heart disease). Particulate matter has been linked to a higher risk of premature death in those affected by such conditions. There are further investigations presently being done regarding the effects of PM1 particles also found in forest fire smoke, which attacks the body at a cellular level and once absorbed, can remain indefinitely.

How Can Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke Be Mitigated?

8 Best Tips for Reducing the Impact of Wildfire Smoke on Your Lungs

Air filtration experts suggest that those residing within an affected area should protect themselves by:

  1. staying indoors with the windows and doors closed.
  2. reducing time spent outdoors.
  3. avoiding vigorous outdoor activities.
  4. visiting places with controlled, properly filtered air supply. MERV-13-A filters at a minimum should be used.
  5. maintaining an adequate supply of medication for chronic illnesses (this includes inhalers for people with asthma).
  6. increasing pressurization within the house, if possible. Positive pressure can push indoor air outside, while negative pressure can bring in outside air. It is important to find the right balance. Using a trusted air quality monitor will help determine a good balance.
  7. maintaining adequate filtered ventilation.
  8. purchasing high-quality portable air filters that use a combination HEPA/gas removal filter to clean harmful pollutants out of the air. 

This final recommendation is particularly emphasized for those with respiratory conditions. If clean indoor air cannot be accessed at home or within the community, self-evacuation is recommended as a final resort. 

Improving Poor Indoor Air Quality During Wildfire Season With High Efficiency Air Filtration

To avoid experiencing wildfire smoke inhalation while indoors and subsequently having to take potential evacuation measures, our team of international air filtration experts from Camfil suggest the use of air filters rated MERV 14/14A or higher which are able to trap smaller airborne particulates. Camfil Canada has offices located in regions often affected by wildfire smoke. Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City offer numerous clean air solutions within these guidelines that effectively combat poor indoor air quality caused by wildfire smoke, such as the Durafil ES2 or the Hi-Flo ES

For air handling units that lack sufficient space for a MERV 14/14A-rated filter, a long-lasting panel filter such as the 30/30 Dual 9 is advised in order to decrease filter changeout intervals that can increase dramatically due to the amount of contaminant. Should space allow, gas removal filters can also be installed in order to reduce odour infiltration into the building. 

Can You Clear Your Home of Wildfire Smoke With An Air Purifier? 

According to Canadian air filtration expert Berni Baier, Camfil Canada, “An in-room portable air purifier, is another option if a building’s current HVAC system does not allow for improved particulate or gas removal, as it operates independently of the air handling units.”

What Should You Do To Clear Wildfire Smoke With An Air Cleaner? 

  1. Use a particulate and molecule trapping capable air filter (with no leakage around filter)
  2. Verify HEPA filtration efficiency 
  3. Size unit(s) for a minimum 5-6 air changes per hour 
  4. Low noise levels
  5. Position unit in room for optimal air circulation 

There are a variety of factors that determine which air filtration solutions will best protect you from the health threats of wildfire smoke. Be sure to contact an experienced commercial building air filtration consultant to find the air filtration solutions that are right for your building. 

To consult with an air filtration expert regarding any needs related to wildfire smoke or for further air filtration information, please use this contact form and a Camfil filtration expert will answer any questions you may have. 

About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions

For 60 years, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. Read more about Camfil Canada


Media Contact: 

Phillip Ilijevski

Camfil Canada Inc. 

T: 437-929-1161

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