In the spirit of preparedness, the most pressing recurring environmental issue we seem to be facing in the Bay Area is smoke inhalation from a new era of statewide (and multi-state) super fires. Below is a detailed preparedness guide for ways to protect yourself, your home, and your family. Unfortunately, there will be a next time, at which point I promise to resend this. However, now is the time to invest in, or save up for, equipment and materials for the next round so you’re not caught off-guard. Some of the information is adapted from here: https://www.naturopathicenvironment.com/free-event-environmental-impact-from-forest-fire-smoke-a-first-aid-for-our-west-coast-air-quality-tuesday-oct-24-2017-530pm-pt/?fbclid=IwAR3DxV_cQ0HW6a0JUafSZxeNWPTSzyssxxrucdhM7Vrd4gdqFqaK4bosZYU
If you have any corrections or updates, please let me know!
Air Pollution: What are we breathing?
When fires swallow entire neighborhoods and towns, everything in those homes goes up in smoke, literally. We then breathe and absorb what gets blown our way. Think of all the solvents people store in their garages, the cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxins, polymers, etc., in computers, cars, plastics, mattresses with flame retardants (because that’s so helpful), pesticides in wood, and so much more. We are talking about exposure to multiple chemicals simultaneously via multiple routes: the skin, lungs, and ingestion (from exposed food). But before you panic, here’s some helpful information…
IMPORTANT TIP: The warmer you are, the more you absorb through your skin. So, either stay cold (not really), OR, keep the areas of your body with the thinnest skin and most blood vessels well-covered: the eyes, neck, and groin. That means during a smoke-out, wear tight-fitting goggles (vs. glasses), cover your neck, and wear pants, not skirts.
Levels of air pollution are reported in units called PM, which stands for Particulate Matter. These airborne particles, such as dust and liquid droplets, are generally safe at low concentrations and become health hazards at higher concentrations. The number after PM refers to the particle size in microns.
Most research centers and governments around the world monitor PM 2.5, which the body is typically able to clear out on its own at lower concentrations through mucus, cilia, sneezing and coughing. But some scientists are urging increased research and monitoring of the tinier yet abundant PM1 that not only affect the lower respiratory tract, but pass through the blood-air barrier in the lungs, entering the blood as toxins and affecting the cardiovascular system, while impairing regulation of the nervous system.
Clearly, the health risks are higher in areas of China and India, for example, where people endure year-round exposure to shockingly high levels of PM1 and PM2.5 that we experience for only a week or two here, not to say that isn’t serious as well. (http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-10/28/content_17061997.htm):
PM = particulate matter; measured in microns
PM 1 = smallest; go deeper in the body (very small)
PM 2.5 – bacteria sized (small)
PM 10 = talcum powder sized (large)
The silver lining of a smoke-out is that no one seems to care if you look like a tricked-out Ghostbuster. In fact, not wearing a mask is being unprepared which is super uncool for your health.
These masks are only a tiny bit better than nothing, giving a false sense of security, potentially prolonging outdoor time and toxic exposure.
These masks are generally the way to go, but with caveats:
While you can certainly make do without, if you wanted to go all the way, an outer layer to protect your clothes and skin would be an option. Some good brands:
PRECAUTIONS AT HOME
Indoors is the safest place to be during a smoke-out, but a leaky house with no air purification reduces the smoke by as little as 10%. Here are ways to make your home or office as smoke-free as possible.
There are a lot of air purifiers on the market originally designed for allergy sufferers or for “sick buildings” with no natural ventilation. Many of those brands are now capitalizing on a new market around wildfire smoke, making claims that are sometimes misleading. This next section is an attempt to clear up the facts, and help you decide on the best air purifier for your situation.
True HEPA filters capture 99.97% of all .3 micron particles. (Not “down to .3 microns” or “.3 microns and up” or “as small as .3 microns”)
The brands below were selected because of claims to address wildfire smoke, and if they were listed in any of these three air purifier review sites, the first of which I trust the most:
How to choose an air purifier:
If you’re particularly concerned about chemicals in the air, you’ll want a purifier with more robust amounts of carbon, which is more expensive. If the brand you like has just 1 lb. of carbon, call the company to ask about the other filters inside the product and how they perform in comparison, as there may be other technology.
Wifi/Bluetooth connectivity increases cost and emits EMF’s. Most wifi connectivity can be disabled, and some brands offer cheaper models with no wifi.
Optional bells and whistles that don’t necessarily increase cost nor effectiveness, but can be good, include:
Other considerations are:
Sooner than later is the time to comparison shop and order since many of these units sell out quickly during fire season when you may have to settle for something suboptimal. Plus, you can use it for germ or allergy season, too.
“I’m overwhelmed. Just tell me which one to get!”
Haha. I get it! Here’s my best recommendation, but you’ll still have to decide:
NOTE: If you have to go with a lower-end carbon filter (1 lb.), be sure to change it often. Best to contact the company for their recommendation during a smoke-out and beyond.
Organs affected by smoke:
Prolonged smoke exposure causes oxidative stress and inflammation. Some ways to counteract this:
AFTER THE SMOKE
There is still plenty of toxic residue after a smoke-out, especially when buildings were burned. Some precautions:
Remember that our exposure is but a fraction of what others experience around the globe. We are privileged to have some of the cleanest air, food, and water in the world most of the time. I think we are also very aware during smoke-outs that it could be worse as our hearts go out to those who suffered directly from fire.
Our bodies are also incredibly resilient and strong if cared for. Exercise, eating well, stress reduction, sufficient sleep, and plenty of water powerfully assist our bodies in excreting toxins year round. For most of the year, make sure you’re sweating, getting your heart rate up, and breathing hard several times a week to keep your organs vitalized so your system can better get through a smoke-out when it’s harder to do those things.
TOP 20 TIPS
There’s a lot of information here. So here’s your cheat sheet of the top 20 tips for the next smoke-out:
Oh … and always be sure to vote! Climate change is real, and we need policies to reverse it, as well as smart forest management and accountability from utility companies. Thanks for being proactive to help take care of our planet, and for doing what it takes to be prepared, not scared.
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