Healthy Living in the North

Taking steps to improve air quality – it all adds up!

As part of our clean air contest, we asked for photos showing why clean air is important to you. Here's a beautiful blue mountain sky that one participant submitted!

As part of our clean air contest, we asked for photos showing why clean air is important to you. Here’s a beautiful blue mountain sky that one participant submitted!

Our clean air contest is nearly done (there’s still time to enter!) and, above all else, one thing is clear: northerners are passionate about air quality!

There’s still time to enter the contest. To help inspire you, here are just a few of the entries we’ve received when we asked what steps you take to reduce the amount of smoke or pollution you or your family create!

For many people, a desire to reduce smoke and pollution has changed the way they use their vehicle:

  • Many of you shared that you walk or bike instead of driving when possible. In Prince George, one participant shared that this can have a double healthy impact: “I walk to work so I get exercise and I help reduce emissions.”
  • In Burns Lake, another shared: “We reduce pollution by trying our best to carpool, as we live in a rural area, and limit our trips to and from town.”
  • In the northwest, there were a few different travel tips, including: “Walk to work … maintain our vehicles with up to date oil and air filter changes … we don’t idle our vehicles for extended periods of time.”
  • Vehicle maintenance was important in Chetwynd, too, with one person sharing that “We clean our vehicles weekly to wash off the salt and road dirt.”

Some people have taken steps to improve air quality in their home, including:

  • Practicing safe wood burning (“We only burn seasoned dry wood in our woodstove.”) or looking into alternatives to heating with wood (“Not using our fireplace other than in emergency situations such as power outages.”)
  • Some of you prefer the coziness of sweaters! (“Although we have electric heat as opposed to gas or fire, we still layer up with socks, slippers, and other warm clothes before turning the heat up.”)
  • Many of you appreciated the role of indoor and outdoor plants (“We have indoor plants and try to cultivate bee-friendly plants outdoors.”) and shared that keeping your home clean and free of allergens and dust helped you improve air quality there.

It was also wonderful to read about so many people who have quit smoking and who mentioned air quality as one of the reasons that ultimately influenced their decision to quit! If you need support to quit smoking, visit QuitNow.ca. Learn more about the benefits of quitting elsewhere on the blog.

We received so many great tips. I’m excited to keep sharing them so please keep them coming! Submit your stories and tips for your chance to win a great prize!

Improving air quality involves many different people and sectors but remember, it all adds up!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

Share

Air quality in the north

Landscape with mountains in background

The air we breathe has a significant impact on our health – beyond just our lungs! (Photo by Northern Health staff member Molly McRae)

Working in Public Health Protection has been rewarding. Whether it’s speaking to a mother about the cause of her baby’s stomach bug or teaching a food safety class to local food service workers, I’ve appreciated being part of the upstream efforts to prevent illness.

Now that I’m a parent to two small children and having just lost my mother to cancer, these efforts seem even more personal. Many of the choices we make each day can impact our exposures to infections and environmental contaminants. The personal care products we use, the food and water we consume, the lakes we swim in, the air we breathe – all of these can impact our health.

Recently, in my new role as Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, I have been focusing a lot of my time on air quality.

Air quality in northern B.C.

I’ve learned a lot about air quality in the last 6 months, particularly about the amazing northerners committed to improving our air quality!

Here’s a quick sample of what I’ve learned since June – information that I think is important to share!

  • Did you know that in northern B.C., we have three very active community roundtables where stakeholders meet and tackle difficult air quality issues in their respective communities?
  • There are also air quality steering committees for the purposes of information exchange and health promotion activities.
  • There are passionate and talented scientists right here in B.C. researching what impacts our air and how this affects our health.
  • The health effects of poor air quality extend much more broadly than we’ve traditionally understood. In fact, the theme for the last BC Lung Association Air Quality and Health Workshop was “Beyond the Heart and Lungs“. Air pollution contributes negatively to many lifelong health conditions and even small improvements in air quality can have significant positive health impacts.
  • Smoke is of particular concern in the north. Why? Because it contains tiny particles called particulate matter (PM), and a large range of harmful compounds — the normal by-products of combustion. It may also contain small amounts of other proven and suspected cancer causing agents.
  • There are many sources of smoke in our airsheds and the most notable source is due to the increasing intensity and severity of wildfires in the summer.
  • I was surprised to learn, though, that air quality can be severely impacted in the winter months as well. I grew up in a home where we used both forced air and wood heat. It felt completely natural to sit in front of the woodstove to warm my toes and I have a fond association between the smell of creosote and my grandparents’ log home! Fast forward to today and I’m learning all about the harmful effects of wood smoke on the local airshed.

What can I do?

A couple ways we can reduce our impacts in the north is to only burn when absolutely necessary and to use efficient and clean burning practices. Learning about air quality is key, too! I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months to work on some key messages related to responsible wood burning to increase air quality awareness across northern B.C. You can find some of that information and more resources on Twitter, Facebook, and on Northern Health’s air quality site.

The local air quality groups in our region also have some great resources on their websites:

Finally, don’t miss the USEPA site for great information on burning and air quality.

Let’s take these steps so our families and neighbours can breathe easy!

Share your clean air tips and stories

How do you or your family reduce smoke or particulate matter during the cooler winter months? We want to read and share your stories about efficient or clean burning practices, alternatives to burning, and other strategies we can all use to minimize the smoke or particulate matter in our air.

Share your stories and tips with us this season for your chance to win a great prize! You’ll also have the chance to tell us why clean air matters to you!

Enter the contest today!

Paula Tait

About Paula Tait

Paula works in Prince George as a Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, working collaboratively to assess and minimize health impacts related to industrial development. Born and raised in Terrace, she completed her schooling in Edmonton, and started her environmental health career in southeast Saskatchewan in 2005. She has been back in northern B.C. since 2010. Paula enjoys being creative, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.

Share

The smoke in our air: Tell us how you contribute to cleaner air for your chance to win!

Smoky chimney

We all have a role to play in supporting cleaner air! Smoke and particulate matter don’t recognize borders! Even small reductions in smoke and particulate matter can have a large health impact.

Air quality has made international headlines recently due to an emergency situation in Delhi, India. Their fine particulate matter levels soared well above safe limits. These particles are so small they can enter deep into the lungs and cause a wide range of health problems – especially in children and people with compromised respiratory systems. Schools were shut down and people were urged to limit outdoor activity. Other mitigation measures such as limiting vehicle traffic and halting industrial operations were put into place to combat these extreme conditions.

Air quality: a local concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a world map that shows us how Canada compares to the rest of the world. Compared to places like India, we are very fortunate to have very clean air here in northern B.C. Yet we are not immune to poor air quality days! The Central Interior Air Zone Report (2011-2013) and the BC Lung Association 2016 State of the Air Report show us that many of our northern communities exceed provincial or federal air quality standards.

Air quality in the winter

What’s more, air quality can be even more severely impacted in the winter. Our air quality meteorologists tell us that air movement slows or stagnates when it cools down and thus lowers into our valley regions. Particulate matter accumulates in this stagnant air and levels can rise above what is considered safe.

There are many sources of particulate matter including, but not limited to, road dust, vehicle emissions, and smoke from fires. Smoke generated from residential wood heating spikes during these cooler, more stagnant air, days.

Kids & clean air

Breathing cleaner air has benefits for all of us, but children are especially susceptible to the health effects of air pollution. Their bodies are still growing and their lungs are developing. Children also have greater exposure to air pollution because they breathe in more air per kilogram of body weight and they spend more time being active outdoors. Children with asthma or other respiratory conditions are more likely to be affected. Air pollution can trigger asthma attacks and cause respiratory symptoms like coughing and throat irritation, even in healthy children.

Protecting our families, friends, and neighbours

This winter season, I want to remind us all to reduce our contributions to the smoke in our air. There are alternatives to burning wood for heat and if we must burn wood, let’s educate ourselves on how to burn more cleanly and efficiently. This will protect our families and neighbours from harmful pollutants.

If you burn with wood, here are some quick tips:

  • Split, stack, cover, and store wood for 6 months prior to use.
  • Use a moisture meter to check that wood has a moisture content of 20% or less.
  • Use an efficient CSA or EPA certified wood stove.
  • Don’t burn garbage or treated woods.
  • Don’t burn during an air quality advisory.
  • Maintain your chimney and wood burning appliance so it burns clean and is safe.

Even small reductions in smoke and particulate matter can have a large health impact!

Share your clean air tips and stories

How do you or your family reduce smoke or particulate matter during the cooler winter months? We want to read and share your stories about efficient or clean burning practices, alternatives to burning, and other strategies we can all use to minimize the smoke or particulate matter in our air.

Share your stories and tips with us this season for your chance to win a great prize! You’ll also have the chance to tell us why clean air matters to you!

Enter the contest today!

Paula Tait

About Paula Tait

Paula works in Prince George as a Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, working collaboratively to assess and minimize health impacts related to industrial development. Born and raised in Terrace, she completed her schooling in Edmonton, and started her environmental health career in southeast Saskatchewan in 2005. She has been back in northern B.C. since 2010. Paula enjoys being creative, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.

Share

Radon: What you need to know

Family in house.

Knowing the radon levels within your home allows you, as a homeowner, to make informed decisions about how to best protect your family.

November is Radon Awareness Month in Canada and it’s a great time to test your home for radon gas.

Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada each year? This was news to me, which is why I wanted to connect with Environmental Health Officer Shane Wadden to learn more.

Here’s what Shane told me:

What is radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas. It has no smell, no colour, and no odour. It is naturally occurring in many northern soils and can build up in your home. The only way to know if a home has high indoor radon levels is to test.

What are the health effects of radon?

Exposure to radon increases your chance of getting lung cancer:

  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
  • Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
  • Radon causes approximately 10% of all lung cancers worldwide.
  • Radon kills approximately 2,000 people in Canada each year.
Radon test kit

The only way to know for sure whether your home is high in radon is to test. Long-term radon test kits can be purchased from Northern Health Public Health Protection offices.

How do I test my home?

The only way to know for sure whether your home is high in radon is to test. Health Canada recommends that homes be tested for a minimum of three months (preferably 12 months), ideally between October and April. The detectors should be set up in the lowest lived-in level of your home where you spend at least 4 hours of your time each day. Testing is easy and relatively inexpensive. Long-term radon test kits can be purchased for $25 at one of nine local Public Health Protection offices.

When should I take action?

Radon is measured in bequerels per meter cubed (Bq/m³). This measurement is used to determine the concentration of radon in the surrounding air. The current Canadian Guideline for Radon is 200 Bq/m³. Health Canada recommends that that you take steps to reduce (mitigate) radon levels in your home if you detect radon concentrations greater than 200 Bq/m³. The higher the radon concentration, the sooner the remedial measures should be conducted.

Reducing the amount of radon in your home is easy. Radon levels in most homes can be reduced by more than 80% for about the same cost as other common home repairs such as replacing the furnace or air conditioner. Techniques to lower radon levels are effective and can save lives.

This fall, take a few minutes of your time to test your home to ensure that you and your family are safe. Knowing the levels within your home allows you, as a homeowner, to make informed decisions about how to best protect your family.

Where can I find more information?

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

Share

Staff profile: Licensing officer Lisa Rice shares her thoughts on quality child care

Woman fishing

As a licensing officer, early childhood educator, and former child care provider, Lisa Rice has seen all sides of the child care world!

Lisa Rice is a licensing officer, early childhood educator and former child care provider. She has seen all sides of the child care world and shared this knowledge with me! With lots of families looking at child care arrangements for the summer months as the end of the school year approaches, it’s the perfect time to share Lisa’s expertise, which was originally featured in Healthier You magazine. Check out the full issue at the end of the article. If you want more information about licensing and providing safe, quality child care, visit our Community Care Licensing site.

I started by asking Lisa a few quick-fire questions about herself!

  • A bit about yourself: I’m a Newfoundlander who moved to British Columbia in 1991. We lived in Bella Coola and Smithers prior to coming to Prince George in 1998. I’m an early childhood educator and have been working in different child care roles since graduating with a diploma in Early Childhood Education in 1988. I became a licensing officer in 2004. I’m married and am the mother of two sons and the grandmother of an 18-month-old granddaughter.
  • Favourite activities: Biking, snowshoeing, and eating healthy.
  • Favourite food: My green smoothies – blend banana, orange, spinach (or anything green), and peanut butter!
  • Favourite part of your job: Seeing the work we do pay off. We support child care settings to become structured, rich, happy, and healthy environments. I recently saw a child care space where 3-4 year olds were taking part in an election activity – it’s great to see creative and inspiring things like that!
  • Who is your role model? If I had to choose one person, it would be my sister, who is bravely battling cancer. Beyond her, I feel like all people who are trying to live a healthy, positive lifestyle are important role models.
  • What is your motto? Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Man and woman skiingGiven Lisa’s experience in all aspects of the child care world, I asked her a few questions about her work and thoughts on quality child care:

What is community care licensing?

Northern Health’s Community Care Licensing program provides regulatory oversight for any facility that provides care to three or more people who aren’t related to the caregiver. This includes child care spaces. Providing oversight means ensuring that care providers are meeting minimum standards to protect the health, safety, and well-being of children. Standards cover everything from staffing to hygiene, physical requirements, nutrition, playtime, and more.

Why is licensing important for safe child care?

By establishing and monitoring minimum standards, licensing lowers the risk of negative health and safety outcomes for children. As licensing officers, we represent families so that they can be assured that the care providers looking after their loved ones are following health and safety principles.

What does a day in the life of a licensing officer look like?

It can be varied! My day might include an unannounced inspection, following up on an incident or complaint, processing a licensing application, or supporting care providers through education and outreach. A lot of what I do on a daily basis is taking upstream health principles and applying them downstream, where kids and families are seeking care.

Three people climbing cutbanksWhat does quality child care look like?

I look for environments that are safe, well-organized, free of hazards, and that invite children to learn and grow. Caregivers should also have open, positive relationships with a child’s family.

What’s interesting is to see how quality child care can be a role model for families. When kids are exposed to healthy behaviours in child care, they take this home to their families. One facility, for example, started their day with all of the kids washing their hands. They later shared that many of their families had adopted this practice at home. When kids came home from daycare, the whole family would wash their hands before doing anything else!

What does a healthy community look like to a licensing officer?

For me, a healthy community models healthy behaviours. A healthy community has families that are well-versed in healthy practices like hand hygiene, healthy eating, and the importance of outdoor play. Licensed child care spaces model these behaviours and the families take these lessons out into the community.


Check out Lisa’s original story and lots of other information about child health in the Summer 2016 issue of Healthier You magazine:

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

Share

Food safety in the workplace

Soup being ladled into a bowl.

Clean and sanitize surfaces, use serving utensils, cook food thoroughly, and be mindful of time and temperatures to ensure that your next workplace potluck or celebration is a safe one!

I love office potlucks and catered lunches. It’s a time for everyone to break their routine and potentially try something new!

These celebrations do bring up some unique issues and concerns, though, as we think about how to prepare food safely and how to keep it safe throughout the function or meeting.

Here are a few tips that will help with food safety at your next workplace potluck, meeting, or celebration.

Don’t contaminate.

Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and use a serving utensil (e.g., tongs or spoons) to dish food onto your own plate. This will limit the amount of germs spreading from person to person.

Clean and sanitize.

There’s no guarantee that any surface is cleaned before your food, utensils, and hands touch it so along with washing your hands, make sure to clean and sanitize all surfaces that will come into contact with food. Make a sanitizing solution by mixing a half teaspoon of bleach with 1 litre of water.

Cook the food well.

Cook food completely to an internal temperature of 74 degrees Celsius and try to minimize the time between cooking and serving. Don’t cook food partway through for finishing later since this increases the risk of bacterial growth.

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Try to keep food out of the danger zone temperature of between 4 degrees Celsius (refrigerator temperature) and 60 degrees Celsius (hot holding temperature). Bacteria love growing at room temperature so it’s important to keep perishable foods either colder or hotter than the danger zone. Seafood chowder? Keep it hot in the crock pot. Strawberry spinach feta salad? Keep it cold with a bowl of ice water. If this is not possible, consume the food within 2 hours and throw out the leftovers.

Time is a factor.

If there is the possibility of someone taking leftover food home for dinner or to eat the next day, make sure you put a 2 hour rule on covering food and returning it to the fridge. This minimizes the time when most bacteria prefer to grow.

Still have questions? Feel free to contact Northern Health’s Public Health Protection staff for more advice or tips!


Northern Health’s nutrition team has created these blog posts to promote healthy eating, celebrate Nutrition Month, and give you the tools you need to complete the Eating 9 to 5 challenge! Visit the contest page and complete weekly themed challenges for great prizes including cookbooks, lunch bags, and a Vitamix blender!

Daisy Tam

About Daisy Tam

Daisy Tam is an Environmental Health Officer for Northern Health. She also has a background in nutritional science from UBC. Migrating up from southern B.C., Daisy has found the vast north to be full of fun and new winter and summer activities to stay busy. In her spare time, Daisy enjoys playing badminton, hiking, cross-country skiing, skating, baking, and reading as weather permits.

Share