Winnipeggers who hope to dive into an outdoor city pool to beat the heat are out of luck due to air quality concerns.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the city closed outdoor pools, wading pools and outdoor recreation programs "until further notice" due to poor air quality. On Wednesday, as wildfire smoke cast a smelly haze over Winnipeg, it wasn’t clear when the facilities would reopen.
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said the move was needed to protect the health of citizens, who might have little to no experience with poor air quality and identifying the symptoms it can cause.
"I’m glad we’re cautioning Winnipeggers because it isn’t something that we know a lot about, generally, because we haven’t done (such cancellations) in a very long time, if at all," said Rollins, the chairperson of council’s protection and community services committee.
Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for Winnipeg Wednesday over pollution pouring in from "numerous" forest fires in northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba.
By Wednesday afternoon, the city’s air quality health index rating was eight, which is deemed "high risk."
Environment Canada warned the polluted air can cause sore eyes, tears, coughing and a runny nose, urging Winnipeggers to limit outdoor activity.
The city notes those exercising outdoors, as well as young children, seniors, pregnant women and people with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, are at most risk of falling ill due to wildfire smoke.
"We’re having an air quality emergency, for sure," Rollins said.
Curt Hull, a project director of Climate Change Connection, said the closures are one example of the unpredictable impact of rising temperatures. Hull said such impacts could be repeated as hot, dry conditions conducive to forest fires become more common in Manitoba.
"The disturbances (are) going to become more severe, more costly, more impactful, as times goes on. I think, this summer, a lot of people are seeing the consequences of climate change... They may have been able to ignore it up until now but we’re seeing so many things happening (at once)," said Hull.
He said the increase in both drought and floods should highlight an urgent need to shift away from our reliance on fossil fuels and find greener methods of food production, transportation and heating.
"I am seeing more and more people recognize the urgency of climate change... That alarm is valid and it needs to be translated into supportive policy on the part of our policy makers," said Hull.
In an email, city spokesperson Joelle Schmidt said the city doesn’t have records to confirm if this is the first time it closed facilities or cancelled programs due to poor air quality. Schmidt said the suspended recreation programs include free play programs, youth centres and some day camps, though some offerings may move indoors.
Spray pads are still available for Winnipeggers to use "at their own risk."
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.