Wildfire smoke, air quality and health concerns
Historical California wildfire seasons
In recent years the country has watched as California residents have experienced the largest and most deadly wildfires in history. Fueled by the strongest winds this decade, wildfire smoke and flames have ravaged the state. 2019 has continued a three-year trend of devastating forest fires across the state.
While far from good, 2019 hasn’t, and likely won’t close as, the worst year in California’s wildfire history. Both 2017 and 2018 were far worse, consuming more acreage, destroying more homes and businesses, and displacing more residents, some permanently.
This phenomena was predicted nearly a decade ago. And, regardless of the cause, scientific modeling pre-indicated the increased wildfire occurrence not only in California, but throughout the western half of the United States.
- Health and wildfire smoke
- What is in wildfire smoke?
- Health risks associated with smoke from wildfires
- Affecting what can be controlled
- What homeowners can do
Health and wildfire smoke
While we cannot, would not and are not here to ponder or make commentary on the experience of living through a wildfire, we do consider it from within in our lane. We have been looking at the wildfires through our keyhole, specifically considering the smoke created by these fires.
As a company with the quality of the air we breathe at our core we wondered: What are the health risks to those exposed to wildfire smoke?
What is in wildfire smoke?
According to the EPA’s AirNow website dedicated to air quality in the United States, wildfire smoke is more complex than one might imagine. Expect to find the following compounds, particles and pollutants in wildfire smoke:
- Carbon dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals
- Nitrogen oxides
- Trace minerals
- Water vapor
The AirNow website continues to clarify that “fine particles are the principal pollutant of concern from wildfire smoke for short-term exposures (hours to weeks).”
Health risks associated with smoke from wildfires
Fine particles are the pollutant raising the most concern because when they are inhaled, they can make their way deep into our lungs. High concentration of exposure of these particles can cause symptoms such as persistent cough, difficulty breathing, phlegm and wheezing.
Exposure to fine particles can affect healthy people; those without lung disease or other respiratory illness. So, there’s heightened concern for those with asthma, chronic allergies, heart conditions and lung disease. Children and the elderly are also at higher risk.
Affecting what can be controlled
When reviewing all the factors that have led to some limited relief, many are out of human control. Weather, including wind patterns, rainfall (or lack thereof) and lighting strikes are but three examples of what no person or group of people can exercise direct control over.
But, in addition to the innumerable factors we cannot control, there is standout behavior that contributed to a less devastating 2019: preparation. State and fire officials in California have noted that of what they can control, better preparation has made a big difference in avoiding wildfire occurrences as well as combatting them once underway.
What homeowners can do
The EPA provides the following recommendations so homeowners can be prepared. Here’s their suggestions:
Buy a portable air cleaner before there is a smoke event. Make sure it does not make ozone and it is the right size for the room where you plan to use it.
Ask a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professional what kind of high efficiency filters (rated MERV 13 or higher) you can use in your home’s HVAC system. Learn how to close the fresh-air intake if your HVAC system or room air conditioner has one.
Learn how to create a “clean room” in your home where you can shelter in place. Choose a room with no fireplace and as few windows and doors as possible, such as a bedroom, where you can shelter in place. Plan to use a portable air cleaner in the room.– Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Just like for state and government agencies, homeowner preparedness may be among the best advice. It’s especially worthy of consideration for those located in wildfire hotspots. In the United States, that area includes not only Arizona, California and Colorado, but the greater Southwestern United States.
When we created Tru, we wanted to create healthier homes and promote better indoor air quality. We knew MERV 13 filters would actively arrest airborne fine particles better than HVAC filters with a lower MERV rating. But, we never contemplated that their relevance to those living in wildfire zones.
If you’re interested in a MERV 13 HVAC filter subscription for your home, we hope you learn more about our filters and service.
If you are living in a wildfire hot spot, whether you have any interest in our air filters or not, we hope you consider the health risks of wildfire smoke and take the efforts that make the most sense for you and the ones you love.