Wildfires Increase Air Pollution… How You Can Stay Safe
Last year was a record-setting year for wildfires in America. In California alone, there were more than 9,600 fires. They burned over 4.3 million acres of land.
That’s double the number of fires from two years ago when the Golden State established a wildfire record.
Overall in the West, the number of large fires tripled in 2020 from the previous record. An area larger than the landmasses of Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined burned across the West last year.
And the number of burned acres in America has increased by six times since the 1970s.
Worst Air Quality on Earth
As the scorched acreage increases, people and their homes become victims. One of the horrible effects of wildfires is poor air quality.
We breathe that air, both inside and outside our homes. Which can make a respiratory pandemic even more difficult to deal with. In fact, the CDC says wildfire smoke can make us more prone to the coronavirus.
A vast majority of the nation’s wildfires occur in the West. But effects are felt all the way to the East Coast. Smoke from Western wildfires causes hazy skies in the Plains and the Midwest. Plus Virginia, New Jersey, New York and into New England.
Measurements in 2020 revealed something astonishing. Wildfire smoke is giving some areas in the U.S. the most unhealthy air quality on the planet.
Small Particle Pollution Causes Health Issues
Researchers say this about wildfire smoke. It has accounted for up to one-half of the small particle air pollution in parts of the U.S. in recent years.
A separate Associated Press analysis found this. At least 38 million people in Western states were exposed to unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke for at least five days in 2020.
The smoke particles were blamed for health problems. They ranged from difficulty in breathing to a projected spike in premature deaths.
Scientists have found connections between smoke exposure and lung issues. Plus weakened immune systems and higher rates of viral illnesses.
Arden Pope is a researcher at Brigham Young University. He said, “It would not surprise me if air pollution contributes to the risk of coronavirus infection.”
Traveling Particles Become More Toxic
Most of these microscopic particles start off in the West. But they can easily drift hundreds or even thousands of miles east due to prevailing winds.
They penetrate lung membranes, damage the respiratory system and enter the blood stream.
Some studies have shown these particles become more toxic the farther they travel from the site of a fire.
That’s because they undergo chemical reactions. Which cause them to age in a process called oxidation. The particles convert to compounds with an even greater capacity to damage cells and tissues.
Breathing Is Hazardous
Firefighters are especially susceptible to smoke inhalation. But those living in the vicinity of these fires – and some outside those areas – are also at risk. Cloth masks worn due to COVID-19 are of little help when it comes to wildfire smoke.
There are a number of causes for wildfires. Including dry conditions and hot temperatures. Plus high winds and too much vegetation near electrical equipment.
Whatever causes wildfires, they are worsening. The three costliest fires in U.S. history have all occurred in the last three years. Each happened in California.
When air pollution gets especially bad due to wildfires, residents are told to stay indoors. But that’s hardly a solution. Americans already spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors.
When outdoor air particle concentrations increase, indoor air concentrations also increase. This is especially true in homes because most have low efficiency particle filtration systems. Or no particle filtration.
8 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Wildfires are out of control in America. That won’t change anytime soon. No matter where you live, do what you can to make sure the indoor air you breathe is as clean as possible.
Here are eight ways you can help improve the air quality in your home:
- Dehumidify. Dust and mold love humidity. Fix water leaks before mold can grow. Use your exhaust fan when cooking. The EPA recommends a range of 30 to 60 percent humidity in a home.
- Choose the right candles. If you like lighting candles in your home, use beeswax candles. Traditional candles can release pollutants. Beeswax candles help reduce toxins.
- Stock up on house plants. They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. NASA recommends the Peace Lily. Ferns, spider plants and aloe vera are also effective.
- Change your air filters regularly. Some experts recommend less expensive filters because they allow for better airflow.
- Keep it clean. Dust, vacuum and mop regularly. If you steam clean your carpets, use a mixture of white vinegar and water. A vinegar solution on hard floors also works well.
- Keep smokers outside. Smoking is deadly and secondhand smoke is just as bad.
- Avoid using aerosols. Many of them contain phthalates, which can negatively affect hormones. Artificial sprays plug-ins and fragrances are filled with chemicals you don’t want to inhale.
- Open windows. Nearly every winter there are at least a handful of days when you can let some outside air in without making the furnace do extra work. Use ceiling fans as well.
The best way to ensure healthy indoor air quality – no matter where you live – is with a portable air cleaner. That’s what the CDC suggests.
And that’s what we at the Patriot Health Alliance recommend as well.
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