Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 105–108 | Cite as

Population Health Effects of Air Quality Changes Due to Forest Fires in British Columbia in 2003

Estimates from Physician-visit Billing Data
  • David Moore
  • Ray Copes
  • Robert Fisk
  • Ruth Joy
  • Keith Chan
  • Michael Brauer



Major forest fires near populated areas during 2003 exacted a huge economic toll on communities in British Columbia. We designed a study to examine associations between PM2.5 and PM10 levels and physician visits in two affected communities.


Measurements of 24-hour averages of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) obtained from the monitoring network of the BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection were used to define weeks where forest fires resulted in increases in ambient PM. Weekly rates of physician visits for respiratory (ICD-9 codes 460-519), cardiovascular (390–459) and mental illnesses (290–319) obtained through the Medical Services Plan of BC, were compared for 2003 and aggregates of the 10 previous years.


Both the Kelowna and Kamloops regions experienced five weeks of elevated 24-hour average PM levels, although maximum levels in Kelowna were greater. In the Kelowna region, increases in physician visits for respiratory diseases of between 46 and 78% above 10-year mean rates were observed for three weeks during the forest fire period. Similar effects were not observed in Kamloops. Effects on visits for cardiovascular diseases or mental disorders were not seen in either community.


Forest fire smoke was associated with an excess of respiratory complaints in Kelowna area residents. The lack of a similar effect in Kamloops is likely due to the population being exposed to lower levels of PM. The absence of apparent cardiovascular health effects may be due to selective effects of forest fire smoke on respiratory tract disease.

MeSH terms

Smoke air pollution respiratory tract diseases cardiovascular diseases mental health 



Les grands feux de forêt qui ont menacé des zones urbaines en 2003 ont eu des répercussions économiques énormes sur les localités de la Colombie-Britannique. Notre étude porte sur les associations entre les niveaux de PM 2,5 et de PM 10 et les visites chez le médecin dans deux localités touchées.


Nous avons utilisé les niveaux moyens de matières particulaires (PM 10 et PM 2,5) mesurés sur une période de 24 heures par le réseau de surveillance du ministère de la Protection de l’eau, de la terre et de l’air de la Colombie-Britannique afin de déterminer les semaines où les feux de forêt ont entraîné des hausses des matières particulaires ambiantes. Les taux hebdomadaires de visites chez le médecin en raison de maladies respiratoires (codes ICD-9: 460-519), cardiovasculaires (390-459) et mentales (290-319) fournis par les services de santé de la province ont été comparés aux données de 2003 et aux données d’ensemble des 10 années précédentes.


Dans la région de Kelowna et dans celle de Kamloops, il y a eu cinq semaines où les niveaux quotidiens moyens de matières particulaires étaient élevés, mais les niveaux maximaux enregistrés à Kelowna étaient plus élevés. Dans la région de Kelowna, on a observé une augmentation des visites chez le médecin en raison de maladies respiratoires (de 46 % à 78 % de plus que les taux moyens sur 10 ans) pendant trois semaines au cours de la saison des feux de forêt. Il n’y a pas eu d’effets semblables à Kamloops. On n’a observé aucun effet non plus sur les visites médicales en raison de maladies cardiovasculaires ou mentales, ni à Kelowna, ni à Kamloops.


La fumée des feux de forêt était associée à une exacerbation des troubles respiratoires chez les résidents de la région de Kelowna. L’absence d’effets semblables à Kamloops s’explique sans doute par une plus faible exposition de la population aux matières particulaires. L’absence d’effets cardiovasculaires visibles pourrait s’expliquer par l’effet sélectif de la fumée des feux de forêt sur les maladies des voies respiratoires.


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Moore
    • 2
  • Ray Copes
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Robert Fisk
    • 5
  • Ruth Joy
    • 1
  • Keith Chan
    • 1
  • Michael Brauer
    • 4
  1. 1.BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/ AIDSSt. Paul’s HospitalVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Dept of Health Care and EpidemiologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouver
  3. 3.British Columbia Centre for Disease ControlCanada
  4. 4.School of Occupational and Environmental HygieneUniversity of British ColumbiaCanada
  5. 5.Population Health Surveillance and EpidemiologyBritish Columbia Ministry of Health ServicesCanada

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