Fire and Smoke Health Concerns
Transcript of the Fire and Smoke Health Concerns Presentation
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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.
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 breathe normally
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.
Most persons who are exposed to thick smoke will not have health problems.
The level, extent, and duration of exposure, age, individual susceptibility and other factors play a significant 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.
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).
Use mechanical air cleaners, keeping windows closed while driving in a vehicle, and minimizing other sources of air pollution (e.g., smoking tobacco, using wood burning stoves, burning candles or incense and vacuuming).
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.
These places may include large commercial buildings, educational facilities, shopping malls, movie theaters or any place with effective air conditioning and particle filtration.
In order for a mask to provide protection during a smoke event, it must be able to filter very small particles (around 0.3 to 0.1 microns), and it must fit, providing an airtight seal around the wearer’s face.
Dust masks are not enough. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke.
It is best to stay indoors and limit your exposure to the smoke.
Some masks (technically called respirators, but they look more like paper masks) are good enough to filter out 95% of the particulate that is 0.3 microns and larger. Smoke particulate averages about 0.3 microns, so these masks will filter out a significant portion of the smoke if they are properly fit to the wearer’s face. These masks, which may include an exhalation valve, do not require cartridge filters. They are marked with one of the following: “R95”, “N95”, or “P95.” Soft masks with higher ratings (R, N or P 99 and R, N, or P 100) are also available and will filter out even more particulate.
The Department of Health does not recommend the wearing of any masks or respirators at this time.
It is best to stay indoors and limit your exposure to the smoke.
Most people won’t use the masks correctly and won’t understand the importance of having an airtight seal.
Masks are uncomfortable, and they increase resistance to airflow.
Mask may lead to physiological stresses such as increased respiratory rates and heart rates. Masks can also contribute to heat stress.
(Because of this, masks used by those with cardiopulmonary and respiratory diseases can be dangerous, and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.)
The Department of Health does not recommend using wet towels or bandanas (to cover the nasal and oral passage in place of a mask).
Wet towels or bandanas have the same shortcomings as paper dust masks.
Individuals can reduce the amount of particulate in their vehicles by keeping the windows closed.
The car’s ventilation system typically removes a portion of the particulate coming in from outside. For best results, most cars have the ability to re-circulate the inside air, which will help keep the particulate levels lower.
All persons in areas affected by the wildfire smoke are being advised by environmental officials, public health officials, and local emergency management officials to limit outdoor activity and stay indoors whenever possible to minimize exposure to the smoke.
Air cleaners can be effective at reducing indoor particulate levels, provided the specific cleaner is adequately matched to the indoor environment in which it is placed. However, they 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 .
Humidifiers or de-humidifiers are not technically air cleaners and will not significantly reduce the amount of particulate in the air during a smoke event.
If you do not have an air conditioner and if it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
If you have a medical emergency you should
Call 911 or go to the hospital emergency room immediately.
If asked or instructed to evacuate your home, make sure to bring your important family documents:
Insurance policies, etc.
Also bring your family disaster supply kit which should contain:
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.floridadisaster.org
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.
Every nonresidential building has a uniquely designed ventilation system, where modifications, 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.
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
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. If respirators are deemed necessary to limit exposures to airborne contaminants, the employer is required to provide and select the appropriate respirator based on the respiratory hazard the employee is expected to experience during work. The employer then provides respirators, training and medical evaluations at no cost to the employee.
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 1-800-35-NIOSH.
Florida Department of Health:
Division of Environmental Health: