Why you should be wearing an N95 mask today in Ottawa

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Under a sinister grey-orange sky, Ottawa’s air quality readings hit levels more commonly seen in the most polluted cities in the world Tuesday as smoke from forest fires created widespread health risks.

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“It is terrible. I have lived in Ottawa since 1996 and I have never seen a day like this,” said Dr. Shawn Aaron, a respirologist at The Ottawa Hospital.

Aaron said emergency departments across the city will likely see an increase in visits in the coming days related to the extremely poor air quality which can increase the risk of heart and lung problems, especially with the elderly, very young children and those with chronic illnesses.

Health officials were advising people to wear N95 masks when outside, to limit their times outdoors and to keep their windows closed.

“If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted N95 mask can help reduce your exposure,” said Monica Vaswani, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “A mask would be your best defence if you do have to be outdoors.”

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Ottawa has been under a special air quality advisory since Monday because of smoke from forest fires in Quebec, Ontario and elsewhere. But early on Tuesday, the risk level spiked as one of the key measures of poor air quality hit levels more commonly seen in the most polluted parts of the world.

The amount of fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5) in Ottawa’s air usually measures in the range 0-4 micrograms per cubic metre. When that reading hit 60 earlier this week, Environment and Climate Change Canada issued an air quality warning.

Early Tuesday, that number had more than quadrupled, to upwards of 260 micrograms per cubic metre. It has since come down.

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