With the events of the recent Blue Ridge and Silverado fires, it’s important to take a look at how wildfires can affect air quality. When the fires first began, Orange County was under a smoke advisory all the way through Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
So how do fires like these affect the air quality? According to the California Air Resources Board, wildfires can give off a range of harmful air pollutants.
One of these harmful pollutants is carbon monoxide which is an odorless and colorless gas. Carbon monoxide can inhibit the ability of blood to carry oxygen to vital organs like the heart and brain.
The California Air Resources Board website also states that fatigue, headaches, confusion and dizziness are the most common side effects of exposure to this gas. Unborn babies, infants, elderly people, and anyone with a history of respiratory or heart issues are at the most risk when exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.
As stated on the California Air Resources Board, the biggest concern when it comes to wildfire smoke and air quality is particulate matter, or PM. Particulate matter is a mixture of different chemical pollutants containing tiny solid fragments and aerosol droplets. Essentially they are tiny particles that when inhaled, depending on the size, are lodged deeper into the lungs or in the airways higher up in the lungs.
Long and short term effects vary from the worsening of respiratory diseases, premature death in those that have chronic lung or heart disease and reduced lung function growth in children in those with Similar to carbon monoxide, it seems that children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues will be harmed the most by exposure to these particles.
Since wildfire smoke can do so much harm to air quality, it’s important to know how to stay safe from the harmful effects that come with these fires.
According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, there are many safety tips the public can utilize to stay safe during wildfires. They suggest that if anyone sees ash or smells smoke from a wildfire they should limit outdoor activity, especially any rigorous physical activity and remain indoors with windows and doors closed. Since wildfire smoke puts harmful pollutants into the air it’s important to stay inside and limit exposure.
Another way to do this is to make sure air conditioners are running using clean filters and ensuring it’s recycling indoor air and not bringing outside smoke in. They also recommend using portable air cleaners alongside air conditioners if possible.
The website also notes that dust masks will not protect the lungs from the particulate matter and gasses that wildfires produce, though N-95 or P-100 respirators can offer some protection if worn and used properly.