What is the health threat from wildfire smoke?
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine
particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your
respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Fortunately, most
persons who are exposed to thick smoke will not have health problems. How much and how long you are exposed to the
smoke, as well as your age and degree of susceptibility play a role in
determining whether or not someone will experience smoke-related problems. If you are experiencing serious medical
problems for any reason, seek medical treatment immediately.
How can I tell if the smoke is affecting my family or me?
- Smoke can cause coughing, scratchy
throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches,
stinging eyes and runny nose.
- If you have heart or lung disease,
smoke might make your symptoms worse.
- People who have heart disease might
experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and fatigue
- Smoke may worsen symptoms for people
who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory
allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in
the following ways:
- Inability to
- Cough with
or without mucus
- Wheezing and
shortness of breath
- When smoke levels are high enough, even
healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.
How can I protect myself and my family from the harmful
effects of smoke?
The best thing to do is to limit your exposure to the
smoke. Specific strategies to decrease
exposure to smoke include staying indoors whenever possible, using air
conditioners (air conditioned homes usually have lower air exchange rates than
homes that use open windows for ventilation), using mechanical air cleaners
(i.e. hepa filtration), keeping windows closed while driving in a vehicle, doing
less strenuous physical activity (i.e. fast walking, rather than jogging) and
minimizing other sources of air pollution (e.g., smoking tobacco, using wood
burning stoves, burning candles or incense and vacuuming).
Will I suffocate in my house?
No. The most common
call for evacuation during a wildfire is due to the direct threat of the fire,
not smoke. Leaving the area of thick
smoke may be an option for those who are sensitive to smoke. But it is often difficult to predict the
duration, intensity and direction of smoke, making this an unattractive choice
to many people.
During severe smoke events, local clean air shelters may be
designated to provide residents with a cool place to get out of the smoke, or
individuals may choose to visit these locations on their own. These places may include large commercial
buildings, educational facilities, shopping malls, movie theaters or any place
with effective air conditioning and particle filtration.
I Wear a mask or N95 respirator?
The Department of Health does not recommend the wearing of
any masks or respirators at this time.
Will a wet towel or bandana provide any help?
The Department of Health does not recommend using wet towels
or bandanas. Since wet towels or
bandanas may not be sealed to the face and their capacity to filter very small
particles is unknown, they will likely provide little to no protection. They
are also not certified as effective respirators by National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
What should I do if I must drive to work?
Individuals can reduce the amount of smoke particles in
their vehicles by keeping the windows closed. The car’s ventilation systems typically remove
a portion of the particle coming in from outside. For best results, individuals may want to use
the recirculate air feature found in most cars, which will help keep the
particulate levels lower.
Our community has an outdoor game scheduled for this
evening, should we cancel it?
All persons in areas affected by the wildfire smoke are
being advised to limit outdoor activity and stay indoors whenever possible to
minimize exposure to the smoke. Contact
your local emergency management officials for more guidance.
Do air-purifying machines help remove smoke particles inside
Some air cleaners may be effective at reducing indoor particle
levels, but most are not effective at removing gases and odors, and also tend
to be expensive. Some devices, known as
ozone generators, personal ozone devices, “energized oxygen”, “triatomic oxygen”,
“activated oxygen” and “pure air” generators are sold as air cleaners, but they
are not recommended for use in occupied buildings. Ozone does not remove particles from the air,
and would not be effective during smoke events.
Ozone itself is toxic and a regulated outside air pollutant. We advise the public to avoid exposure to
ozone indoors by not using air cleaners that produce ozone. For additional information consider reviewing
the US Environmental Protection Agency document: “Ozone Generators That Are Sold As Air
Cleaners” available at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/ozonegen.html
Also, humidifiers or de-humidifiers are not technically air
cleaners and will not significantly reduce the amount of particles in the air
during a smoke event.
What should I do about closing up my house when it is so hot
If you do not have an air conditioner and if it is too warm
to stay inside with the windows closed, seek alternative shelter.
If I have respiratory problems and can’t reach my doctor,
where should I go?
If you have a medical emergency you should call 911 or go
the hospital emergency room immediately.
What do I bring if I’m told to evacuate my home?
If asked or instructed to evacuate your home make sure to
bring your important family documents (birth certificates, wills, insurance
policies, etc), any valuables and your family disaster supply kit. Your disaster supply kit should contain enough
food, water and supplies to sustain your family for at least 3 days. Don’t forget any medications or special items
such as a first aid kit. For additional
information on how to prepare your family for disasters consider reviewing the
“Family Preparedness Guide” available at: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/rw_webmaster/prepareenglish06.pdf It is extremely important for families to
create their own disaster plan before a disaster strikes so they are quickly
able to determine what valuables they may want to bring, what items need to be
stored, how to preserve keepsakes, etc.
I operate a nonresidential
building with outside air intakes.
Should I close the outside air intakes during a wildfire smoke event?
Every nonresidential building has a uniquely
designed ventilation system, where any changes even temporary ones, can have an
impact on building occupants and indoor air quality. We recommend you consult with a heating,
ventilation and air-conditioning professional for guidance on this issue.
Where can I find information about the air quality
in the area I live?
The Florida Department of Environmental
Protection provides updated information on outdoor air quality in Florida. You can access this information by logging
into the following website: http://www.floridadep.org/air/airquality.htm
an employee or volunteer, I am working in an area where I am exposed to
wildfire smoke. What type of respiratory
protection should I use?
Consult with your employer or the agency to
which you are volunteering. The U.S.
Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
requires all employers to establish respiratory protection programs for their
employees to use when it is deemed necessary.
For additional information about the
respiratory protection standards, log on to www.OSHA.gov
and click "r" on the site
index alphabet, or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA or the National Institute for
Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) at 1-800-CDC-INFO.