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Safety Tips for Dealing with Smoke Pollution
Sep 10th, 2018
Safety Tips for Dealing with Smoke Pollution
Smoke pollution from wildfires can be a dangerous air pollutant.
by Alec Lower
August is peak season for wildfires, and this year was no different. California, Oregon, and Washington faced the effects of wildfires burning all across the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. The situation, as is true with any wildfire, has been frightening and dangerous. Its destructive nature is disrupting entire cities, and in addition to the primary concern of the actual blaze, these fires are also causing the air quality to reach hazardous levels. This isn’t just near the wildfires either. Smoke and carbon monoxide from the fires have made impacts as far away as Pennsylvania. Poor air quality isn’t the most obvious danger that comes with wildfire, but it can certainly be detrimental to your health if you are not prepared to deal with it.
Smoke pollution from wildfires has traversed a shockingly large portion of the country, making preparedness a relevant topic for most Americans. We’d like to provide some critical tips for dealing with such densely polluted air, and we hope you will continue to take the air quality situation seriously and stay safe.
Pay Attention to Air Quality Ratings
The Air Quality Index, or AQI, is a rating scale introduced by the EPA (and likely used by your local news channel). The AQI ranks air quality on a six part scale. The ratings are as follows:
- Good - Virtually no risk from pollutants.
- Moderate - Pollutants exist within the air but are not a major concern for anyone who isn’t unusually sensitive.
- Unhealthy for sensitive groups - People with respiratory conditions and other causes of sensitivity to pollutants should be aware of the potential for irritation, but the general public should be fine
- Unhealthy - Health concerns begin to exist for all members of the population
- Very unhealthy - Dangerous conditions for all members of the population.
- Hazardous - Serious danger exists for everyone. Warnings will be in effect.
Air quality ratings in the heart of the wildfire-affected areas have improved somewhat, but are still in the unhealthy range for a large portion of the extreme northwest. AQI is rated moderate in many regions downwind of these fires, including places as far as 1,500 miles away. Almost anywhere in North America can be affected by a serious wildfire season, so it’s important to be prepared no matter where you are.
Use Higher Quality Air Filters
One of the major pollutants produced by wildfires that is so threatening to air quality is smoke. Smoke particles are incredibly small, measuring at a mere 0.3 microns, which is 1/10 the size of a red blood cell. These particles are small enough to slip past lower MERV rated filters and negatively affect your home’s indoor air quality. Having an air filter that’s designed to deal with particles as small as smoke will help to keep that danger at bay. We recommend a MERV 13 rated filter or higher to deal with smoke. To learn more about what MERV means, click here.
Stay Inside if you're Advised
If there is enough smoke pollution in the air to result in a dangerous air quality rating, it might be best to stay inside. Don’t risk exposing yourself to smoky air if you can. This is the most effective way to counter the risks associated with poor outdoor air quality. If you absolutely need to go outside though, acquire the proper face protection. Flimsy dust masks are insufficient as they won’t trap particles as small as smoke. A respirator is your best option. An affordable example is the N-95 Particular Respirator. Although not perfect, it will provide considerable help. If you want total protection from smoke pollution, you may want to consider an upgrade, like an escape respirator.
This is a good tip anyway, as it can save you money on your heating and cooling bill. When the AQI indicates dangerous outdoor air, it becomes essential to your health. As discussed, smoke particles are tiny and will get inside your home through the smallest of entrances. Improperly sealed doors and windows that allow small amounts of air to pass through will allow smoke to seep into your home. Putting in a little bit of work to ensure your entrances are correctly sealed will help you minimize smoke and pollutants that can enter your home.
If wildfires or the dangerous pollutants they emit aren’t currently affecting your area, it’s still important to be prepared for the possibility that they could. We should also keep those that are affected in our thoughts as they deal with this dangerous situation. Not everybody in the affected areas has access to high-quality air filters or sufficient respirators to wear, and we should all extend some help if we have the opportunity to do so. If you’re interested in helping, we have launched Smoke Pollution Relief by FilterEasy, a relief effort to help communities in need across the west coast get access to cleaner air. In addition to shipping thousands of smoke-filtering air filters, we have created a way for anyone to donate to show their support of this relief effort. All donations directly fund smoke-filtering air filters for communities in need affected by the air pollution crisis. To learn more about our program and to help those in need, head over to our devoted campaign website: www.smokepollution.com.