Fire, Smoke & Air Quality Concerns

Smoke in the Air

Smoky skies and elevated Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) are cause for concern for those living and working at UBCO. Members of the community are asked to check the AQHI daily and to follow the associated recommendations.

Please go to the Government of Canada AQHI website for more information.

The AQHI uses real time air quality data to combine parameters into one simple number that is designed as a guide to the relative risk presented by common air pollutants which are known to harm human health. During periods of wildfire smoke, the AQHI is driven by PM2.5 values and is the most appropriate public health tool to inform individual decisions in relation to appropriate activity levels and any necessary controls to limit the effects of poor air quality on health

Indoor vs Outdoor Air

The main air contaminant associated with negative health outcomes is PM2.5 (small particulate matter). It should be noted that the smoky smell is NOT necessarily consistent with PM2.5 (i.e. the smell can be present, even though the small particulates are not, and vice-versa). The smell of smoke is associated with the VOCs which can penetrate and remain in fabrics, carpets etc, despite particulates no longer being of concern (for example, if you spend time around a campfire, the smell remains in your clothing even after you return home and put it through the laundry). The human nose is much more sensitive than our ability to detect with modern instrumentation. We smell smoke long before it becomes a health risk (i.e. in parts per billion).

UBCO indoor air is filtered, and although filtration is not 100% effective, indoor air will have less PM2.5 than outdoor air.

During smoky periods, the health-related contaminant (PM2.5) is approximately two times higher outdoors when compared to indoors within UBCO buildings.

Recommendations during smoky periods

  • Sign up for the BC Ministry of Environment Air Quality Subscription service
  • Follow the AQHI recommendations and advice
  • Prioritize work indoors and defer all strenuous outdoor work until AQHI improves. Particularly those who are high-risk.
  • If engaging in prolonged or strenuous outdoor work, consider wearing a dust mask or properly fit tested N95 (or better) respirator. Contact HSE to arrange a fit test or to receive respirators.
        • Dust mask – reduces exposure to PM2.5 by about 2 times or by 50%.
        • N95 respirator – reduces exposures to PM2.5 by about 14 times or by 95% when properly used and fit tested.

Further questions can be directed to We are monitoring the email and will respond as quickly as possible.

On campus, if you have a medical emergency or need urgent support, please contact campus security at 250-807-8111 and you will receive support or referral as necessary.

9-1-1 should be called for all serious medical emergencies.

8-1-1 (BC nurses help line) is a resource for health related information.

Additional Resources and Information:

Campus Alerts – UBC’s Okanagan Campus

Central Okanagan, British Columbia – Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) – Environment Canada (

Provincial Air Quality Objective for PM2.5 – Province of British Columbia (

Wildfire smoke, air quality and your health (

Wildfire Smoke: Frequently Asked Questions | WorkSafeBC

BCCDC Wildfire Fact Sheet-Outdoor Exercise

Wildfire Smoke (