Wildfires not only cause extensive damage to forests and property, but they can also seriously impact health. The smoky and ashy conditions during wildfires pose health risks for everyone, especially for children, older adults, and people with heart or lung diseases. While the impact from wildfires is most acute close to the source, smoke can travel 1000s of miles, so don’t take your air quality for granted no matter where you live. While you will not be able to control what is going on outside, there are things you can do to keep your indoor air as clean as possible.
We want to make sure you and your family stay healthy indoors and outdoors.
TIP: Know the Air Quality Index (AQI). Local news sources and apps like Breezometer can help you monitor outdoor air real-time. Levels of 101 and 150 particulate materials as unhealthy for people who have sensitive respiratory systems. Readings of 151 to 200 are considered unhealthy for all; 201 to 300 is “very unhealthy,” and levels of 301 to 500 are considered hazardous.
If you are able to stay in your home, keep indoor air as clean as possible:
- Avoid vacuuming, smoking, burning candles or incense, and frying or broiling foods that produce a lot of smoke inside.
- Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot.
- If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean. If you have a “whole house fan”, turn it off when the air quality is poor unless it’s extremely hot.
- When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. If you have heart or lung disease, are an older adult, or have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area.
- Run mechanical air cleaner(s) with a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA 99.7%) fiber or fabric filter. Filters should be tightly sealed in their containers and cleaned or replaced regularly. Make sure to select the right size filter for the size of your room. Room air cleaners should filter two or three times the room volume per hour.
DIY an air cleaner! For about $50, you can easily assemble a great (and portable) air purifier to help filter the air indoors. To minimize the odor from smoke, add a charcoal filter on the outside of the MERV13 filter. Charcoal filters should be replaced monthly, or sooner if you start to notice the odor returning. For more info and directions visit: www.haywardscore.com/articles/boxfan.
If you have to go outdoors, the face covering you are normally wearing for COVID-19 will offer some protection from wildfire smoke. Better protection would come from a particulate respirator rated N-95 or higher (which can be a challenge to find). They should have two separate straps that go completely around your head and an adjustable nose piece. if you have existing lung or heart issues you may need a different type of mask, so check with your doctor. Paper “dust” masks DO NOT provide protection against smoke.
- Remember, most face coverings, including N-95 respirators, only protect against particles. They do not protect against chemicals, gases, or vapors, and are intended only for low hazard levels and not for long-term use.
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ARE YOU CONCERNED YOUR HOME IS MAKING YOU SICK?
Our guide on indoor quality will help you diagnose possible issues and implement intelligent solutions to improve the quality of the air inside your home.