The CZU lightning complex fires have displaced many during an on-going pandemic. It is a critical time in which community support for evacuees and first responders is of utmost importance. However, the dangers of wildfire affect more than just those forced to leave their homes. The smoke has negative effects on air quality during a time in which respiratory health is critical to surviving COVID-19. Wildfire smoke and ash can irritate the respiratory tract and can increase susceptibility to infections (“Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19,” 2020).
Wildfire Smoke & Air Quality
According to the California Department of Public Health, wildfires release a large number of pollutants into the air. These include chemicals such as aldehydes, sulfur dioxide, benzene, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxins amongst many others (BP Wildfire FAQs, 2019).
These particles are very harmful. Aldehydes, for example, can narrow the airways and cause breathing problems (“Inhalation of Aldehydes,” N.d.). Sulfur dioxide can diminish lung function (“Sulfur Dioxide,” 2020), and dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental problems (‘Dioxins and the effects,” 2016).
Limiting exposure to wildfire pollutants is important to protecting our health, especially for vulnerable groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vulnerable populations include children under 18 years old, pregnant women, adults over 65 years old, and people with chronic conditions like asthma, lung disease, and heart disease (“Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19,” 2020).
Minimizing Smoke Exposure
It is best to minimize exposure to wildfire smoke by staying indoors, protecting the air quality in your home, and moving to clean air spaces if necessary. Of course, this is a difficult task for those displaced by the fires, which is why community support really matters. One can check local air quality at airnow.gov, a website dedicated to keeping track of air quality conditions (“Reduce Your Smoke Exposure- US EPA,” n.d.).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends protecting the quality of air indoors by not smoking, burning candles, or burning gas (n.d.). Air cleaners (portable or central systems) are a good idea and should be considered for maintaining air quality in the home. High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are the most efficient, albeit rather expensive. When considering acquiring an air cleaner, one with a high Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) is best (“Indoor Air Filtration- US EPA,” n.d.). The EPA warns against air cleaners that are ozone generators since ozone can also damage the lungs. It is better to use air cleaners that are ozone-safe. Do your research if you decide to invest in an air cleaner.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
At Santa Cruz Core we offer hyperbaric oxygen which can improve the oxygen levels in the blood and speed wound healing. HBOT can also be used to help treat carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from combustion fumes that get mixed into the normal air we breathe (“Hyperbaric Therapy,” N.d).
It is important to know that HBOT is not a substitute for medical care for treating breathing problems from smoke exposure or COVID-19, but it may aid in recovery. Individuals experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, pressure in the chest, and dry cough should still seek medical attention in a hospital setting.
If the air quality in your area is poor, consider staying indoors and protecting the air quality in your home. If you are high-risk for developing breathing problems due to smoke particles, consider temporarily relocating to an area where air quality is better. If you do develop breathing symptoms, contact your primary care physician, and stay on top of your health. Consider giving help to those displaced by the fire, but remember to maintain social distance and wash your hands often- we are still in the middle of a pandemic.
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- Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions and Resources for Air ResourceAdvisors and Other Environmental Health Professionals. (2020, June 5). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/smoke-faq.html
- BP Wildfire FAQs – CDPH Home. (2019, October 29). Retrieved from https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/EPO/Pages/BP_Wildfire_FAQs.aspx
- Inhalation of Aldehydes and Effects on Breathing. (N.d.). Retrieved from https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/2313
- Sulfur Dioxide. (2020, February 12). Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/clean-air/outdoors/what-makes-air-unhealthy/sulfur-dioxide
- Dioxins and their effects on human health. (2016, October 4). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health
- Reduce Your Smoke Exposure – US EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/smoke_fires/reduce-your-smoke-exposure.pdf
- Indoor Air Filtration – United States Environmental … (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/smoke_fires/indoor-air-filtration-factsheet-508.pdf
- Ozone Generators that are Sold as Air Cleaners. (2019, December 23). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/ozone-generators-are-sold-air-cleaners
- Hyperbaric Therapy for CO Poisoning and Decompression Sickness. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/hyperbaric-ther apY-for-co-poisoning-and-decompression-sickness