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More air awareness needed: couple with respiratory conditions

By Erin Hitchcock, Air Aware Educator

For Doug and Nola Purdy, sometimes the air quality in Williams Lake is almost too much to bear.

Doug has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Nola has atrial fibrillation (A-fib), an irregular heartbeat that reduces her heart’s ability to pump blood, which can also cause shortness of breath.

On some days, the air is clean and fresh. But on others, it’s visibly much worse and Doug and Nola don’t just see it but they feel it too.

“I feel like I can’t catch my breath,” says Nola, who also experiences sleep apnea and takes home oxygen. “But we just keep plodding on.”

Doug, who was diagnosed with COPD 18 years ago, says his former job hauling ore in the mining industry led to his condition.

“You track the dust into your truck onto your feet and turn on the heater or air conditioner and it moves around and you breathe it,” he recalls. “I developed a cough.”

He also did mechanical work, which led him to breathe in fumes of copper ore dust.

“It was just like someone drove a knife into my chest. It hurt that bad,” he says, adding his doctor told him his lungs looked like he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day and was the number one candidate for lung cancer – but Doug never smoked.

While smoke from forest fires can definitely have an impact on air quality in the summer, they note that road dust and dust from industry is concerning.

While they realize industry is needed and that people need jobs, Doug and Nola hope that more people will become more aware and start caring about air quality so that some improvements can be made.

“Lots of people say it’s a little debris or a little dusty this morning and I say you go sit on the hill and look down there some mornings; you wouldn’t believe what you’re breathing,” Doug says.

In addition to impacts on those with respiratory diseases, COVID-19 symptoms can become more severe due to poor air quality, according to a study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal that explored long-term exposure to ambient air pollution in Ontario as a potential contributor to the virus.

A Swedish observational study published by Jama Network Open earlier this year also suggested a correlation between air pollution and an increased risk of positive COVID-19 cases and higher severity among young adults.

Erin Hitchcock is an Air Aware educator with Scout Island Nature Centre. Visit our newly updated website at and follow us on Facebook at Air Aware Williams Lake.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of BC through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

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