Smoke from wildfires delivers jolt to Greater Victoria air quality

Online map collects air quality from home monitors

As the smoke from wildfires settled into the air space of Greater Victoria on Monday the reading from the air quality monitor hanging off the back of Ian Gillespie’s house shot up to 280 PM2.5.

Granted, the lack of air quality is no state secret. From Saanich, you couldn’t see Victoria, let alone to the end of most streets. Not only could you feel the smoke going into your lungs, you could practically wave your hand through it. The effects are well documented. At this level the smoke can be harmful to people living with asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The province makes updates available at

But there’s another place to check air quality. It’s called SensorUp, and it relies on members of the public to install and plug in air quality monitors, which then relay instant updates via wifi to an online map open to anyone.

Gillespie, a psychiatrist who chairs a health promotion committee with Doctors of B.C., came across the SensorUp air quality monitors on a trip to Calgary. He ended up acquiring a batch of the monitors from SensorUp and distributed them to interested behind setting them up the monitors seen in Greater Victoria.

While still not visible to the human eye, the particulate matter that we’re breathing in is quite sizable. A quick backgrounder on PM2.5, it stands for particulate matter that’s 2.5 micrometers in size. A human hair is usually about 70 micrometres in diameter.

Victoria’s readout so far is still much lower than what was being reported in Kamloops, which has been “very unhealthy” with PM2.5 readings as high as 483 over the past 10 days. Anything over 35 PM2.5 is considered unhealthy for sensitive people and anything over 55 PM2.5 is considered unhealthy for the general population.

“My 13-year-old son is at [summer camp] this week, they may have to move inside,” Gillespie said. “There’s a lot of research on the effect of inhaling smoke [particulates] from biomass, or wood smoke, in B.C.

“The particles are inhaled deeply into the lungs, they’re linked to increased rates of heart attacks.”

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