COVID-19: B.C. restricts open burning to reduce air-pollution impact on citizens' immune systems

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      One possible contributing factor as to why Italy was hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to having one of the world’s largest elderly populations, is that northern Italy has been reported to have some of the worst air pollution in Europe, which has lead to widespread lung disease in the region.

      Reductions in air pollution, which has already been occurring during the pandemic due to reduced human activity such as less vehicle traffic and air travel, is regarded as one way to help protect populations from the coronavirus.

      Here in B.C., the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and provincial public health partners announced on March 26 that open burning is being restricted in specific areas across the province until April 15.

      In affected areas that are considered high smoke-sensitivity zones, no new fires can be started and no additional material can be added to existing fires.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has recommended reducing excess air pollution in provincial airsheds as health evidence exists that air-pollution exposure decreases immune system functioning and is associated with heightened susceptibility to respiratory viral infections, particularly from vehicle emissions and biomass burning.

      Consequently, the B.C. environment ministry points out in a news release that deteriorating air quality may contribute to an increase in more severe COVID-19 infections.

      The BCCDC is recommending that open burning of biomass fuels be avoided in areas with moderate or high risk of exposing populations to smoke.

      The restrictions will be evaluated on a daily basis and may be expanded or reduced according to the developing situation.

      A map of permitted and restricted burning areas is available online.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.