Wildfires are threatening many communities each year, spreading with them dangerous air pollution. In addition to the threats posed by the fires themselves, this air pollution presents a potential health hazard to anyone working and living in the surrounding areas. It’s especially dangerous—possibly lethal—for those with respiratory problems and chronic heart disease
If you live or work near a wildfire, the American Lung Association offers these recommendations:
• If you have asthma, contact your physician to see if your medication should be changed to cope with smoky conditions.
• Stay indoors and avoid breathing heavy smoke or ash filled air.
• Shut your doors, windows and fireplace dampers.
• Circulate clean air through air conditioners and/or air cleaners.
• Set your home air conditioner to the recirculation setting to avoid outdoor air contamination.
• Do not use whole house fans, which can bring in unfiltered outside air.
• Don’t rely on ordinary dust masks to filter your air. They’re designed to filter out only large particles and will still allow the more dangerous, smaller particles resulting from the fires to pass through. Instead, use dust masks with the HEPA filter. These can better help filter out harmful fine particles. Note that people with lung disease should consult with a doctor before using this mask.
• If you must drive through smoky areas, keep the car windows and vents closed.
• Set your car’s air conditioning to “recirculate” to avoid exposure to outside air.
• If you absolutely must venture out into a smoky area and don’t have a proper mask, breathing through a damp cloth will help filter out the particles.
• Volunteer clean-up workers also need to remember to protect their lungs. Prior to clean up, wet thoroughly areas covered in dust and soot to reduce further air pollutants.
• Workers should wear the appropriate dust mask during clean-up.
• Avoid areas where asbestos and other hazardous materials are suspected.
• Call your doctor if you experience wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest heaviness, light headedness, dizziness or a persistent cough, especially if your symptoms are not relieved by your usual medicines.