You see on the News or your weather app that the air quality is terrible, or you notice a haze on your drive to work. What is the concern? So, let’s dive into this topic and learn why it’s crucial to know the hazards of wildfire smoke and what protective measures you should take.
The Invisible Danger of WildFire Smoke
Wildfire smoke is a complex assortment of gases and particles that interact and change as they move away from the fire. At a distance from the fires, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) poses the most significant risk to human health.
Fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two and one-half microns or less in width. The larger particles in the PM2.5 size range would be about thirty times smaller than human hair. The smaller particles are so small that several thousand could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.
In cities, wildfire smoke adds to the already concerning air pollution from vehicles and industry. Automobiles, trucks (especially diesel) and industrial combustion activities are significant sources of PM2.5.
Health Hazards of Wildfire Smoke
The fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke can have immediate and long-term effects.
The tiny particles in the smoke can easily find their way into our lungs, causing irritation, inflammation, and difficulty breathing in the short term. Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common symptoms experienced by individuals exposed to this smoke. Forest fire smoke can wreak havoc on our respiratory system, especially for those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, allergies, or chronic lung diseases.
These tiny particles from wildfire smoke can penetrate through the lungs into the blood and then find their way into all the body’s organs.
Recent findings suggest that long-term exposure to PM2.5 can endanger the lungs and bloodstream and lead to adverse heart (heart failure and myocardial infarction), blood vessel, respiratory (reactive airway, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases), and neurological disorders (stroke, Alzheimer and Parkinson’s) as well as premature birth.
So, it’s essential to take the necessary precautions to minimize your exposure.
Who Is at the Greatest Risk From Exposure to WildFire Smoke Particulate Matter?
Research points to older adults with chronic heart or lung disease, children and asthmatics as the groups most likely to experience adverse health effects with exposure to these tiny particles in wildfire smoke.
Research from the Children’s Health Study found that children living in communities with high levels of PM2.5 had slower lung growth and smaller lungs at age 18 compared to those living in communities with low PM2.5 levels.
Protect You and Your Family From Wildfire Smoke
Here are some practical steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the hazards of wildfire smoke:
Stay informed: Please watch local air quality index reports (AQI index), air quality maps, Canadian and U.S government websites, weather updates, and official advisories regarding wildfires in your area. This will help you stay prepared and make informed decisions.
Limit outdoor activities: When smoke levels are high, minimize outdoor time, especially during peak fire seasons. Put off your run or bike ride to another day when the air quality improves. Wear a properly fitted respirator to filter out fine particles (N95 or KN95) if you must be outside.
Create a clean indoor environment: Keep windows and doors closed to prevent smoke from entering your home. Shut doors to the laundry room and bathrooms because those rooms often have ventilation ducts that lead to the outside. Run your furnace fan constantly and use a good filter (MERV 13 or greater). Avoid using appliances that generate smoke or increase indoor pollution, such as candles, tobacco, or frying or grilling food.
Consider buying a portable air cleaner: Portable HEPA cleaners work very well, or an inexpensive cleaner made out of a box fan is very effective. These can be used alone or with enhanced central air filtration to remove particles effectively.
Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your respiratory system moist and help flush out any pollutants that may have been inhaled.
Keep cool: Heat stress and wildfire smoke are a deadly combination. Try the free heat illness prevention training here.
Seek medical advice if needed: If you experience severe respiratory symptoms or have concerns about your health due to prolonged exposure to forest fire smoke, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional.
Forest fires are a natural part of many ecosystems. Still, their increasing frequency and intensity due to climate change is causing increased levels of air pollution at great distances from the actual fires. Understanding the hazards of the smoke they produce is essential for protecting our health and the environment. By staying informed, taking preventive measures, and advocating for sustainable practices, we can play a part in mitigating the impact of forest fire smoke.
Stay safe, breathe easy, and let’s work together to safeguard our shared home!