Yellowknife-based Ecology North has been given $130,000 to study the impact of forest fire smoke on healthcare in the Northwest Territories.
The grant, from Health Canada, allows Ecology North to work with local doctors and Yellowknife health authorities in examining records from recent years.
Without breaking rules regarding patient confidentiality, the group will study the likes of emergency room visits and pharmacy records – comparing 2014’s severe summer of wildfires with quieter seasons.
“This is another example of how climate change has impacted the forest, created more potential for forest fires, and that’s impacting people’s health,” Ecology North executive director Craig Scott told Moose FM.
“When people’s heath gets affected, people start to take notice. We’re trying to build awareness that climate change is impacting people in more ways than they might actually realize.”
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Scott says there is “very little information”, at present, when it comes to the healthcare costs of residents’ exposure to forest fire smoke.
“We’ve done a literature review and there’s very little academic research in terms of forest fire smoke and health impacts,” he said.
“This is going to be kind-of groundbreaking and catch a lot of people’s attention.
“We’ve got some real heavyweight academic involvement in this project and the papers coming out of it will probably get national, if not international, recognition.”
The project will also involve videos shot in Yellowknife and Kakisa to document “less measurable impacts” of forest fire smoke on residents’ health.
“Those impacts perhaps don’t show up in the healthcare system but they do show up in day-to-day life,” explained Scott, a Yellowknifer since 2002, who became the organization’s executive director last year.
The study’s results are expected in early 2016.