The season is here, the fire season of course!
Here's an article on what you need to know about wildfire smoke by Dianne Smith.
What Are the Health Effects of Breathing Wildfire Smoke?
While wildfires also produce carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, these substances usually stay near the fires themselves and don’t travel the kind of distances smoke does. Wildfire smoke itself is composed of fine particles, or PM2.5, which is one of the most dangerous air pollutants.
PM2.5 is known to cause an array of health effects, ranging from short-term irritation to severe, long-term health conditions. Some of these conditions include:
- Respiratory disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Premature death
California’s 2020 wildfire season
One of the reasons wildfires are so dangerous is the sheer amount of particulate matter created by these events. We recently examined the 2020 wildfire season in California (read the full report here!) and discovered that, near the epicenter of the fire, PM2.5 levels were more than 50 times greater than acceptable, healthy limits. Additionally, every area in California experienced an increase in particulate matter pollution due to wildfire smoke. So, not only do wildfires produce staggeringly enormous amounts of particulate matter over a relatively short timeframe, but wildfire smoke can spread for hundreds of miles.
For more information about particulate matter, including other sources and protection measures, we encourage you to check out our guide to understanding particulate matterRead more about this in our dedicated article..
How To Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke
Now that we’ve discussed the health effects, let’s cover what we can personally do to protect ourselves and our homes from wildfire smoke.
Take a look at local, real-time air quality readings
One of the speediest, no-cost ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is to check your local AQI values. Air quality data from your local station will let you know if wildfire smoke is bad in your area; if particulate matter levels are elevated, you should consider taking the steps below.
Kaiterra's Live Air is a great, free resource for you during wildfire season. With hyperlocal air quality data available at your fingertips, you can be sure to stay informed about the air quality conditions in your community.
Power up your air purifier
One of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal is an air purifier. As much as you avoid going outside during wildfire season, some smoke will inevitably leak in from the outdoors, even if you don’t live too close to the fires themselves. Air purifiers can reduce the amount of particulate matter in your home by a significant margin, protecting you from both wildfire smoke and other potential sources of particulate matter. In general, we recommend a HEPA purifier as the most effectual purifier for wildfire smoke; ionic purifiers also eliminate smoke, but you must be cautious about the amount of ozone produced by the purifier. If you do use your purifier during wildfire season, please be aware that your filter will get clogged much faster than expected, so you will need to replace it more often than the manufacturer's recommendation.
Put on a mask
With the COVID-19 pandemic changing all of our lives in 2020, we are all pretty familiar with masks now. The good news is that specific masks can also help protect you from pollution. The bad news is that the cloth and surgical masks most of us are used to wearing won’t do anything against particulate matter.
If you do need to head out on smoky days, we recommend that you wear an N95 or KN95 pollution mask that fits closely to your face. If air leaks around the edges of your mask, then it won’t be nearly as effective, and you might be inhaling unhealthy levels of smoke.
Invest in an air quality monitor
For an optimal pollution-protection setup, you should invest in an air quality monitor. Not only will an air quality monitor tell you your exact particulate matter readings inside your home, but some, like Kaiterra's Laser Egg series, will also provide AQI readings from your local station. Recommended by Wirecutter as the best home air quality monitor, our Laser Egg devices all provide reliable, accurate air quality readings for your home, with versatile home automation integrations and app connectivity.
With the data provided by your monitor, you will know when to turn your purifier on and when to wear a mask outdoors. Smoke is only visible to the naked eye when levels are significantly unhealthy, so you shouldn’t rely on your senses to inform you about the status of your home’s air.
- Epa: https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/how-smoke-fires-can-affect-your-health