Air Quality and Wildfires

How to Protect Yourself from Poor Air Quality During Wildfires

Health Tips for Residents that Suffer from Poor Air Quality

 Wildfires produce millions of tiny pollution particles, in the form of smoke. Concentrations of fine particulates in much of Los Angeles and Orange County are reaching levels which are up to 100 times higher than those on even the smoggiest days. To combat this serious health threat, health officials are advising the population to stay inside and keep doors and windows closed. While this helps to keep some of the smoke out, the small particles from the smoke will eventualluy make their way indoors, through cracks and gaps in the building. The following tips will help you to create a “clean zone” in your home during heavy outdoor smoke from wildfires.

  • After closing doors and windows, use duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal cracks around the doors and outside vents.
  • Replace your furnace filter with a high-efficiency filter upgrade. These are available from most hardware and home improvement stores and cost $10-20.
  • Run your air conditioning system. You can run the fan only, if you are comfortable with the temperature. Constantly cycling the air through your air conditioning system with upgraded air filters will remove some of the air pollutants.
  • Don’t run your bathroom exhaust fans, since this can cause more polluted outside air to be drawn into the home.
  • Create a safe-room within your house with the help of a room air cleaner with a HEPA filter. This will be the room where particularly sensitive members of your family, those with emphysema, allergies or asthma can retreat to. Room air cleaners with HEPA filters are available through specialty retailers and can be purchased over the internet. Expect to pay about $700 for a good HEPA room air cleaner. Do NOT use ionizers or electrostatic precipitators that are commonly sold as air purifiers. These products can exacerbate breathing problems as they can create ozone and lead to increased deposition of particulates into lung tissue.
  • If you do have to go outside, you may want to wear a fine dust mask (such as an N-95 rated mask), available at home improvement stores. These masks will typically sell for $5-$40. If you do not have access to a mask you may use a wet cloth to breathe through. Do not use the simple surgical masks, as used by doctors, because they are ineffective against small smoke particles.

Frank Hammes, President of IQAir North America, Inc., is an expert on air quality and air quality control measures. He lectures and trains indoor air quality professionals on ways to help residents create healthier indoor environments during natural disasters such as wildfires.