Wildfire smoke is a health threat that we’re not likely to be rid of in the foreseeable future. Extended drought and climate change mean our future will bring more wildfires that burn longer. According to a study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 2011, two-thirds of Americans, or nearly 212 million, lived in counties affected by wildfire smoke. Wildfire smoke contains fine-particle air pollution that can cause asthma attacks, pneumonia, and can worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
Air quality continues to slip consistently to unhealthy levels in heavily forested western states. In August of 2015, wind carried a blanket of wildfire smoke from Washington state to the Portland, OR, metro area. Portland Fire and Rescue received numerous calls from residents reporting smoke in the area originating from the Cascade Mountains. Depending on wind direction, smoke from these fires could have traveled to other major metro areas such as Seattle, WA.
The NRDC report says that while more states are trying to warn residents of the health risks posed by wildfires, more monitoring stations are needed. If reports show poor air quality, or if it looks smoky outside, the NRDC recommends staying indoors with windows closed and avoiding the use of fireplaces or other items, such as candles and incense, that create smoke.
During severe smoke events, local clean air shelters may be designated to provide residents with a cool place to get out of the smoke, or individuals may choose to visit these locations on their own. These places may include large commercial buildings, educational facilities, shopping malls, movie theaters or any place with effective air conditioning and particle filtration.
Tiny particulates in smoke travel deep into the lungs, where they evade the body’s defense systems, posing the greatest threat to people with lung disease. Staying inside is the best defense, with air conditioning set to recirculate air. Check the local air quality index before heading out. If it’s anything above a code green, people will be affected, and it could bring on a flare-up in someone with lung disease. The lightweight, medical-style face masks used to fend off germs don’t keep out fine particulates, and N95 masks that do, can obstruct easy breathing and are uncomfortable to wear all day.
The Department of Health does not recommend using wet towels or bandanas. Since wet towels or bandanas may not be sealed to the face and their capacity to filter very small particles is unknown, they will likely provide little to no protection. They are also not certified as effective respirators by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
A bit of good news: most home vacuum cleaners don’t have HEPA filters that catch the smallest particles. So, if you’re adversely affected by smoke, leave the vacuum in the closet.
More Information on Air Quality
For up-to-date information on the air quality where you live, visit the American Lung Association’s State of the Air website. Or, if you live in Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection provides updated information on the Sunshine State’s outdoor air quality.
Wildfire smoke can make coping with lung disease tough for people who reside in fire-prone regions. If you or a loved one suffers from a lung disease, the Lung Institute may be able to help with a variety of stem cell treatment options. Contact us at (800) 729-3065 to find out if you qualify for stem cell therapy.
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