Thursday, August 02, 2018

Wildfire smoke creates health concerns across the West

Smoke hangs in the air in Idaho (Photo by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare)

The wildfires that are ravaging the western U.S. are not just endangering property, but people's health because of the smoke hanging in the air sometimes hundreds of miles away from fires.

"In addition to toxins like carbon monoxide, cyanide and harmful byproducts from homes burning such as plastic and other building materials, it is the microscopic nature of the particles in the smoke itself that are the biggest threat," Barry Kaye reports for Mt. Shasta News in California. Construction dust masks that one might buy from the hardware store don't filter out smoke, which contains particulate matter 2.5 microns across or smaller.

Chris Smith of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recommends that parents keep young children indoors, since their still-developing respiratory systems are more susceptible to smoke inhalation damage. "The elderly, people with heart or lung conditions, and pregnant women should also avoid breathing in the smoke. If you don’t have air conditioning, Smith recommends spending time at libraries or movie theaters that do," Amanda Peacher reports for Boise State Public Radio.

Dr. Norman Edelman of the American Lung Association recommends using an N95 respirator, since it can filter out most of the particulate matter in smoke, Kaye reports.

A few more recommendations from Kaye: "Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. While driving use the air conditioner and the recirculate function rather than drawing in air from the outside. Stay indoors and close all doors and windows. Use an air conditioner if you have one and also check the filter."

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