A Q&A on health and smoke
We asked Jefferson County Public Health Preparedness Coordinator Emily Wegener some questions about dealing with smoke. This is what she said:
What should people do when the smoke is heavy?
Stay indoors as much as possible. Close all doors and windows and keep them closed as much as possible. Seal up drafty doors and windows. Restrict any outdoor activity. Reduce activities that worsen air quality inside, such as vacuuming, dusting, burning candles, smoking indoors, and running wood-burning stoves or furnaces.
What is the best source of information about air quality?
Air Now - www.airnow.gov
Oregon Smoke Blog – oregonsmoke.blogspot.com/
Central Oregon Fire Information - www.centraloregonfire.org/
Will a COVID face-covering protect people from smoke particulates?
A cloth face-covering does not protect people from smoke particulates. If it is necessary to go out into public areas, it should be worn due to COVID-19. The only mask that filters out the particulate matter in wildfire smoke is an N95 respirator. These have to be specially fitted by a trained professional. It is not recommended that people purchase these and wear them unless they are fit-tested, as they provide a false sense of security and increase risk behavior, e.g., outdoor activity.
If someone has to go out, what precautions should they take?
If people have to be out for work, they should talk to their employer or OSHA about safety requirements their employer is required to provide. Otherwise, people should remain indoors as much as possible. There is no safe way to be outside in these conditions other than N95. And again, those require a fit test to ensure a tight seal so that no particulates seep in from around the mask. Fit testing equipment is limited.
What are the effects of smoke on health?
The only thing healthy to breathe into our lungs is clean, fresh air. The health effects of smoke on health include worsening of asthma and other lung conditions, heart issues, and allergy symptoms. It can cause respiratory and heart problems in people without preexisting conditions. At a minimum, it can irritate the body and cause wheezing, coughing, and itching, watery eyes.
What can people do to improve the air quality inside their homes?
We recommend running air conditioning and turning off outdoor air intakes if the system has that equipped. Use air purification systems. Using a box fan with an air filter on the front does work for air purification. There are many tutorials online on how to create this do-it-yourself air purifier.
If people are unable to clean the air in their entire house, they should consider setting up a clean room.
How do you set up a clean room at home?
• Choose a room. It should be big enough to fit everyone in your household and comfortable to spend time in. A bedroom with an attached bathroom is a good choice.
• Prevent smoke from entering the room. Close windows and doors in the room, but don't do anything that makes it hard to get out. If there is an exhaust fan or range hood in the clean room space, only use it for short periods.
• Stay cool. Run fans, window air conditioners, or central air conditioning. If your HVAC system or window air conditioner has a fresh air option, turn it off or close the intake.
• Filter the air in the room. Use a portable air cleaner that is the right size for the room. Run the portable air cleaner continuously on the highest fan setting if you can.
• If you have central HVAC, you can also install a high-efficiency filter (MERV 13 or higher) in the system. Run the system's fan as often as possible to get the most out of the filter.
If HEPA filters are sold out, is there any way to make a filter that is effective?
Unfortunately, if air filters are sold out, there is no alternative recommendation for creating a do-it-yourself filter with a fan. There have been many people buying filters and fans for their homes. People should keep an eye out for the replenishment of stock for these items.
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