With Alberta coated in B.C. wildfire smoke, it's important to remember that outside visibility does not necessarily mean the air is safe to breathe for extended periods, particularily if you have lung or cardiovascular issues.

Meteorologist for Environment Canada Dan Kulak, says wildfire smoke is composed of three distinct elements.

"The AQHI (Air Quality Health Index), is composed of several things, some of which we cannot see. Smoke visibility is primarily influenced by levels of particulate matter, which we mainly see and smell, that's the stuff that gets in your lungs and can get into your bloodstream."

There are two other factors that Kulak mentions, which can be difficult to detect, and can affect air quality, even on days when things seem visible.

"Ground level ozone can be released into the air from forest fire smoke, along with higher levels of nitrogen oxide, both of which can be more difficult to see or smell."

Kulak says rain has the potential to make air quality even worse.

"A little bit of rain can actually make your air quality worse in these situations, because it can bring extra smoke down from aloft, without really washing out the atmosphere, but if you get a long-term soaking rain that does tend to actually cleanse the atmosphere, and improved the air quality. A little bit of rain, can potentially be worse than no rain."

Kulak concludes, that monitoring the Air Quality Health Index, is a safe bet if your lungs are irritated by forest fire smoke, or you are required to be outdoors for an extended period of time.

"Visibility and AQHI is not necessarily directly related, you can have relatively poor air quality levels, especially if the air is polluted with factors such as ground-ozone and nitrogen oxide levels, and still have relatively good visibility. That's why it's important to stay updated on air quality."


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