The “wildland fire season” is now underway across the Pacific Northwest. With more hot, dry weather and storms predicted, this is a good time to review your strategy for weathering poor air quality due to ozone, smog, or smoke.
Who needs a “clean air” plan?
Anyone can be adversely impacted by poor air quality and smoke. Your local air quality agencies will issue an advisory when local air quality declines. Air quality conditions are typically evaluated every hour.
Typically, the EPA grades air quality as graded “good” or “moderate” across the U.S.; but when conditions decline to “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” it can be expected to cause or exacerbate problems for “at-risk” populations, such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
If air quality declines further, to the “unhealthy” range, children (who are at increased risk due to their developing respiratory systems and higher activity level), the elderly, and those who are pregnant may also be at risk.
If you or a loved one are at elevated risk, work with your medical care provider to create a plan for managing your condition if air quality declines.
But if conditions deteriorate significantly, to “very unhealthy” or “hazardous,” even healthy people may need to take steps to protect themselves from excess smoke.
How do you plan to avoid… the air?
The easiest way to limit your exposure is to create a smoke-free zone at home. Stay indoors, and avoid burning cigarettes, candles, or using gas, propane or wood burning stoves indoors. Keep windows and doors closed, and don’t vacuum until air quality improves.
Make sure you have fresh filters in air conditioners, and use settings that recirculate the air inside your home or vehicle, rather than drawing in new air from outdoors.
Especially sensitive people may want to consider investing in an indoor high-efficiency air filter (HEPA) or electrostatic precipitator for one or more rooms in their home. Make sure the product you are buying is rated for the area you plan to use it in – it may be more cost effective to focus on just one or two closed rooms than to treat large, open areas of your home. Air ionizers are not recommended – they reduce dust but produce ozone, which reduces air quality.
Cut back on exercise to reduce your heart rate and respiration, especially outdoors. This includes yard work! Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and reduce stress on your cardiovascular system.
Check with your local clean air agency to see if a “fresh air” shelter is offered when air quality declines. Other public spaces, such as community centers and libraries, movie theaters, malls, supermarkets, and other stores, may also have filtration or cooling systems that help control air quality.
Standard dust masks will not protect your lungs from smoke particles. An N95 or N100 rated respirator might be helpful, but will only protect against smoke particles (and only if fitted properly); such respirators will not stop the irritating or toxic gasses that can accompany smoke.
Source information: The Washington Smoke Blogand Oregon Smoke Blogprovide regular updates about smoke, smoke, ozone, and other air quality issues for residents of Washington and Oregon throughout the year.