This weekend has been terrible for air quality for the greater Vancouver area. The wildfires from down south have made things just a smoky mess. I really should not have been outside on Saturday. On Sunday, I woke up to see the city blanketed in a thick, opaque haze. I was warned to stay inside. I am glad to have heeded this warning as the air was so bad, it would have been detrimental to my health had I spent anytime outside.

About two years ago, local wildfires caused similar smoky skies. I was curious how bad the air was, so I bought an air quality sensor off of Amazon. The sensor measures the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, stated in micrograms per cubic meter. Ideally, that value should be 12 or less. Up to 35, it’s in the caution zone. Between 35 and 55, we’re in a spot called “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”, meaning for people who are susceptible or elderly, this kind of air is not good for them. 55 to 150 is unhealthy. 150 to 250 is very unhealthy. 250 to 500 is hazardous.

This afternoon I turned on the sensor for the first time in about two years. It registered a 24 inside, which was comforting considering the circumstances. Just for “fun”, I placed the sensor on my balcony outside. It registered a 235 right away. It was clear evidence to remain indoors all day today.

Things were bad but at least manageable but as this is 2020, things got worse around 8pm tonight. I live near a waterfront pier which was turned into an award-winning park in 2009. That pier, which is old and has creosote-soaked pilings, caught on fire tonight, in a spectacular blaze. The park and the pier is one of the jewels in this municipality. There were plenty of pictures, videos, and live streams of the fire. The smoke was black, thick, and apparently toxic. For the first two hours or so, I couldn’t smell the smoke but as I watched the live stream, the winds seemed to change, and I saw the smoke starting to drift in the direction of my home.

Around 11pm, I began smelling that familiar creosote smell near my the door to my apartment. I opened it to sample the air in the hallway and I had to quickly close it. The whole hallway just reeked of creosote and smoke. That air was not healthy. The air quality sensor inside my apartment jumped from 35 to 80 in a matter of minutes. I could feel the air seeping in from the gaps between my front door and the door frame. The creosote filled hallway air was making its way into my home. I quickly took some packing tape and sealed the gaps between the door and the frame as best as I could.

As a temporary measure, I also closed all my windows in my living room and my bedroom. I hate doing this because my apartment can get almost air tight and I find the air can get quite stale in short order. When it gets like that I feel like I’m suffocating. I had to do this, however, to lower the amount of dangerous particulates in the air. Before I closed the windows, I smelled the air near the openings and it was thick with the smell of creosote. This was the air that was coming in.

I now have two air purifiers in my home. Two years ago, I bought another to deal with the wildfires. They’ve been on the maximum setting almost all day. With everything sealed up, I was able to bring the air quality sensor reading down to 24. The air is now much cleaner in my apartment but it definitely feels like it’s stale air.

I now have a problem with a balancing act. If I leave everything sealed up, there won’t be new and “fresh” air coming into my apartment. If I open up the windows again, I’ll get “fresh” air again but that air will also contain dangerous particulates from the fire. I need to find a balance where I can open up a window or two a tiny bit to allow some new air into my apartment, while still allowing my air purifiers to clean the air enough that the air quality is still acceptable. I have opened two windows just barely to feel some air coming in and the air quality sensor is reading 35. That should be ok. The air isn’t exactly ocean fresh but if I opened the windows more, the air quality will be too poor.

Having to choose between dirty air with oxygen and clean air without oxygen really sucks.

We started this day with poor air quality to begin with and then the worst thing that could happen with regard to air quality indeed happened. 2020 continues to find new ways to absolutely suck.

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