That smell isn’t your neighbors having a bonfire. Unfortunately, wildfires not only impact their immediate area but the smoke from burning forests can linger in the atmosphere for weeks, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles and harming the health of anything in its path.
The Composition of Wildfire Smoke
Wildfires smoke is a complex mixture of many gases and small particles. The mixture can change quickly depending on the weather, what is burning, the temperature of the fire, and how far the smoke has traveled. In wildfire smoke, particulate matter, especially the smallest size component PM2.5, is the principal air pollutant of concern for public health. Particulate matter is a generic term for particles suspended in the air, typically as a mixture of both solid particles and liquid droplets. This mixture contains significant quantities of respiratory irritants that are both organic and non-organic, including carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons formaldehyde, and acrolein.
What is the Air Quality in My Area?
Fortunately, there are websites and apps that provide up-to-date readings of the air quality in any area. AirNow provides updated hourly air quality conditions. Simply enter your zip code on their website to find out the air quality as well as the primary pollutant and see an air quality forecast. This is also useful to check the air quality and pollutants if you are planning on traveling.
What Are the Effects?
Wildfires expose populations to multiple environmental hazards, from combustion due to the fire itself, to air pollution from the smoke and byproducts such as ash. In addition, when wildfires move through communities, chemicals in plastic and other manufactured products can be released into the air from burning structures and furnishings. Some people are at higher risk from particle pollution exposure. Those with heart or lung disease – including asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), older adults, and children. The effects of smoke range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders such as reduced lung function, bronchitis, and exacerbation of asthma. PM2.5 can be inhaled deep into the lungs where it can cause irritation that may lead to inflammation that affects other parts of the body. It can also irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Exposure to PM2.5 from wildfire smoke can be just as harmful as exposure to PM2.5 from other sources such as traffic and industry.
What You Can Do to Minimize Your Exposure
There are multiple things you can do, according to the CDC, to minimize your risk of exposure.
- Remain indoors and keep your windows and doors closed. If you have an air conditioner, keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
- Use an air filter. Use a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal. This is especially helpful to protect people with heart disease, asthma, or other respiratory conditions, the elderly, and children.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns such as candles or fireplaces. Do not vacuum or dust as it stirs up particles inside your home. When PM2.5 concentrations are high for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them.
Children are more likely to be exposed to air pollution because they often spend more time outdoors engaged in activity and play and they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. They are also more susceptible to the effects of air pollution because their airways are still developing, so it is important to remain indoors as much as possible.
Should I Wear A Dust Mask If I Have to Go Outside?
Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from small particles such as PM2.5 and neither will scarves, bandanas, surgical masks, or homemade fabric masks. Disposable respirators such as N-95 or P-100 respirators will help you if you have to be outdoors for a period of time. However, it’s important that you wear the respirator correctly.
How O2 Nose Filters Can Help
While particles from wildfire smoke can vary in size, approximately 90% of total particle mass emitted from wildfires consists of fine particles that are PM2.5 or smaller. O2 Nose Filters are designed for one-time use for up to 12 hours and our discreet, comfortable design is paired with 3M electrostatic material that captures airborne particles like a magnet. Testing of the filter material has demonstrated 65% efficiency at PM2.5, so breathing through your nose while wearing O2 Nose Filters can help mitigate your risk of inhaling airborne pollutants.
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