October 15, 2019

Clean Breathing and Wildfires: how to stay protected from harmful smoke

Wildfires

According to a wildfire risk analysis, 4.5 mln U.S. households are put at high or extreme risk of wildfires with 2 mln of those from California alone.

California and the Amazon are not the only areas burning. Siberia, Spain, Central Africa and other areas of the globe have been impacted and even if you're living up to a 1,000 miles away, you can still smell the effects of these fires as the wind lifts and carries the smoke great distances.

Besides threatening local ecosystems, wildfires dramatically worsen air pollution by releasing toxic substances . But the greatest threat is posed by fine particulate matter suspended in smoke. These tiny particles known as PM2.5, with a size of less than 2.5 microns, can easily penetrate deep into our lungs, get into our bloodstream, and affect our health.

Emerging studies claim thatexposure to wildfire smoke can alter the immune system for a lifetime, especially for kids.

Photo by Marcus Kauffman

Meanwhile, more and more scientific studies suggest that global warming increases the duration and intensity of wildfires, and that means we must learn how to deal with these natural disasters. Here we provide some tips on how to protect yourself and your family from wildfire smoke.

1. Stay Indoors

If you want to avoid air pollution during short-duration  wildfires, it’s better to stay indoors with the windows and doors shut. If you have some outdoor activities planned, try to reschedule them to avoid exposure to particulate matter and gases formed from incomplete combustion.

To stop air pollution from getting inside, citizens should use recirculating air conditioning instead of drawing air in from outside and install double glazed windows.

2. Get an air filter

One of the crucial factors in controlling indoor air quality is to take care of the air filtration levels in your HVAC system. Let’s explain what they are and which ones to buy.

When choosing an air filter for your home, you’ll encounter two terms: MERV and HEPA. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. The higher the value, the more effective it is in filtering the air. High-end filters have at least 13 MERV. High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters (HEPA filters) have a score of 17-20 MERV and block out at least 99.97% of airborne particles down to a size of 0.3 microns. So, if you want guaranteed protection, it’s better to go for HEPA filters.

3. Wear a respirator

Many people think that a regular surgical mask will protect them from particles, but this is not true. You need to get at least an N95 air-filtering respirator for better protection. The “95” in the model name means the mask filters out 95% of particles sized 0.3 microns. The N stands for it being not resistant to oil-liquid based aerosol. While R95 means somewhat oil-resistant and P95 is oil-proof. N95, N99, and N100 masks should be sufficient to protect yourself from smoke, but keep in mind that they should be worn on your face as tightly as possible. Always carry 3-5 extra masks for each family member.

4. Track outdoor and indoor air quality

From https://waqi.info

It’s advised to limit outdoor activities, and if they occur, check an actual air quality index for better planning. To see real-time data for the US, go to the nationwide air quality map and if you want to check the global air quality map, it’s available at the World’s Air Quality (Index)’s website. These maps indicate the data obtained from air quality monitoring stations scattered throughout the selected city. If you want to get more precise real-time data on the outdoor and indoor concentrations of particulate matter, which is a major pollutant emitted during wildfires, you can use Atmotube portable air quality trackers.

5. Avoid indoor activities that cause air pollution

Some household activities may increase indoor air pollution such as cooking, using aggressive cleaning products, burning candles or fireplaces, or using gas stoves. Use room air purifiers to remove particles and harmful gases from indoor air. Make sure there is a place at home where you don’t conduct any activities that cause pollution. An ideal place to set your air purifier first is your bedroom. It’s not a secret that many people with asthma experience their asthma symptoms late at night or early in the morning. Make sure you don’t have any triggers in the place where you sleep.

Since PM2.5 can become a triggering factor for acute health problems among kids, the elderly and those who have respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, it’s very important to be aware whether its concentration exceeds the safe limits.

***

Atmotube is a portable air quality tracker that detects particulate matter PM1, PM2.5, and PM10 in real-time. You get an immediate notification of whether the air quality has fallen below a moderate level.

The device also detects volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. The app has an air quality coach feature which provides graphs with air quality data over specific time periods and personalized recommendations on how to keep the air around you safe.

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