Protecting Yourself from the Effects of Wildfire Smoke
By angelamontana


With the smoke in many Montana’s neighborhoods becoming unbearable at times and more intense than ever, it is important we take care of ourselves, and we can’t emphasize that enough.  Here are some more tips from airnow.gov on how you can protect yourself from the harmful carcinogens in wildfire smoke:

Pay attention to local air quality reports. Stay alert to any news coverage or health warnings related to smoke. Also find out if your community reports EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI, based on data from local air quality monitors, tells you about the daily air quality in your area and recommends precautions you can take to protect your health. As smoke gets worse, the concentration of particles in the air changes – and so do the steps you should take to protect yourself.

Use visibility guides, where they’re available. Not every community has a monitor that measures particle levels in the air. In the western United States, some areas without air quality monitors have developed guidelines to help people estimate the AQI based on how far they can see. Check with your local air quality agency to find out if there’s a visibility guide for your area.

If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about steps you should take to protect yourself if smoke affects your community. If you live in a fire-prone area, plan ahead! Talk with your doctor before fire season, so you’ll know what to do in a smoky situation.

Only your doctor can advise you about your specific health situation. But EPA’s Air Quality Index can help you protect yourself when particle levels are high. Check the table below for specific steps you can take.


For more information:

  • If there is an active fire in your area, follow your local news or fire web sites for up-to-date information.
  • About wildfires, including current status:http://www.nifc.gov/Exit AIRNow

About indoor air quality:http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html

Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. And it’s probably not a good time for your children to play outdoors.

If you are advised to stay indoors, take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors closed – unless it’s extremely hot outside. Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. Note: If you don’t have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek alternative shelter.

Help keep particle levels inside lower. When smoke levels are high, try to avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves – and even candles! Don’t vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don’t smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in the lungs of people around you.

If you have asthma or other lung disease, make sure you follow your doctor’s directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them.

Air cleaners can help indoors – but buy before a fire.

Some room air cleaners can help reduce particle levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your home. If you choose to buy an air cleaner, don’t wait until there’s a fire – make that decision beforehand. Note: Don’t use an air cleaner that generates ozone. That just puts more pollution in your home.

For more information about home air cleaners, go to: www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/residair.html

Dust masks aren’t enough!

Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks – the kinds you commonly can buy at the hardware store – are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks generally will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.

Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution
Good 0-50 None
Moderate 51-100 Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups 101-150 People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
Unhealthy 151 to 200 People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion
Very Unhealthy Alert 201 to 300 People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

(Feature photo via Josie Jackson)






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