With the Mendocino Complex fire growing daily, we wanted to provide you with information regarding wildfire smoke effects on your health as well as some information about the Air Quality Index.
It’s not hard to notice the effects of wildfire smoke on your health, but what does that mean in the long term? And who is susceptible to these issues?
Thanks to the EPA’s AirNow site, we have some answers to your health questions listed below.
What is in wildfire smoke?
- Smoke is a complex mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particles, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and trace minerals.
- Fine particles are the principal pollutant of concern from wildfire smoke for short-term exposures (hours to weeks).
- Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs; exposure to the smallest particles can affect the lungs and heart.
- Fine particles are respiratory irritants, and exposure to high concentrations can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
- Exposure to fine particles can affect healthy people, causing respiratory symptoms and reductions in lung function. Particle pollution may also affect the body’s ability remove foreign materials from the lungs, such as pollen and bacteria.
- Studies have found that short-term exposure (i.e., days to weeks) to fine particles, a major component of smoke, is linked with aggravation of pre-existing heart and lung disease.
- Not everyone who is exposed to wildfire smoke will have health problems. Age, individual susceptibility – including the presence or absence of pre-existing lung (e.g., asthma, COPD) or heart disease, and other factors – determine whether someone will experience smoke-related health problems.
- Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and will not suffer long-term health consequences. Certain sensitive people may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms.
- Children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people who are sensitive to air pollution (such as those with pre-existing heart and lung disease) should take precautions to limit exposure to wildfire smoke.
- Sensitive individuals concerned about the potential health implications of exposure to wildfire smoke should discuss this with their primary healthcare provider and check the Air Quality Index (www.airnow.gov) each day for the air quality forecast and for information about ways to reduce exposure.
- If you have asthma or another lung disease make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma action plan. Have at least a five-day supply of medication on hand. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen. For individual concerns from specific smoke events, consult a medical professional.
- If you have cardiovascular disease, follow your healthcare provider’s directions and call if your symptoms worsen. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, dial 9-1-1.
In order to understand wildfire smoke effects, it helps to understand the Air Quality Index aka AQI. We’ve included a breakdown below of what is the AQI as provided by AirNow.
How Does the AQI Work?
Think of the AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 represents good air quality with little potential to affect public health, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.
An AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to the national air quality standard for the pollutant, which is the level EPA has set to protect public health. AQI values below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory. When AQI values are above 100, air quality is considered to be unhealthy-at first for certain sensitive groups of people, then for everyone as AQI values get higher.
The purpose of the AQI is to help you understand what local air quality means to your health. To make it easier to understand, the AQI is divided into six categories:
Each category corresponds to a different level of health concern. The six levels of health concern and what they mean are:
- “Good” AQI is 0 to 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
- “Moderate” AQI is 51 to 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.
- “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” AQI is 101 to 150. Although general public is not likely to be affected at this AQI range, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, whereas persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air.
- “Unhealthy” AQI is 151 to 200. Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.
- “Very Unhealthy” AQI is 201 to 300. This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.
- “Hazardous” AQI greater than 300. This would trigger a health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.
Now that you’ve learned some of the basics of the AQI and wildfire smoke effects, here are some resources to share with your friends and families. Remember, sharing is caring.
- EPA’s “Smoke Ready Toolbox” – this contains valuble information and fact sheets regarding all facets of wildfire smoke and the air
- How to wear the proper respirator/mask when outside (provided by EPA)
- Information about HVAC and HEPA filters – this is valuable information if you are worried about outside air pollution coming into your home
- Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials
- Current fires burning (MAP)
Hopefully these resources help you or a loved one when dealing with events like these in the future.