Being “air aware” is important as smoke exposure might affect many across Humboldt County and the North Coast during the wildfire season.
As exposure to wildfire smoke poses potential threats to human health, especially groups with vulnerable conditions, Colorado State assistant professor of environmental and radiological health sciences assistant professor Sheryl Magzamen encourages residents to regularly consult with air quality resources to be up to date on local conditions.
“It is incredibly important, especially in fire-prone areas,” she said. “Our primary health concern is the health and safety related to the fire itself, but we know that smoke exposure, especially for vulnerable populations managing chronic heart and respiratory disease, our community elders and people who are pregnant are highly vulnerable to the health effects of smoke. We know that these cause hospitalizations, adverse birth outcomes, higher use of medication, and in some instances have even caused death from smoke exposure.”
North Coast Unified Air Quality Monitoring District issued pre-smoke information Wednesday in conjunction with tribal health departments and the public health departments from Humboldt, Mendocino and Del Norte counties.
The monitoring district will be issuing comprehensive air quality smoke advisories during wildfire events for affected communities for which there is acceptable forecast information. The color-coded air quality index forecasts are easy to read, with levels ranging from green for good to purple for very unhealthy or hazardous. Smoke advisories are set to be updated as conditions change.
Magzamen also pointed to other resources such as emergency reports and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow.gov site and mobile phone app.
“It reports air quality indexes daily, so you can make sure that you’re prepared for what the situation in your community is going to be like for that day. That information is also available on other weather apps so you can always understand the situation and have avoidance strategies for you and your family in any bad air situation,” she said.
The EPA also manages a fire and smoke map, available at https://fire.airnow.gov/.
Monitoring this information is key for folks working outdoors and those who cannot take shelter during smoky conditions.
“Outdoor workers, landscapers, people, lifeguards, or people that are doing child care during the summer, too, are also our vulnerable groups. So we have some groups that are vulnerable because of their health effects and some people that are vulnerable because they can’t safely protect themselves from smoke by being inside during smokey days,” Magzamen said.
“We’re also worried about our low-income community members who potentially don’t have air conditioning and safe places to shelter during smoke events,” she added.
Symptoms from prolonged smoke exposure can vary but should be treated, if possible, as soon as possible.
“Usually the first symptoms that people experience, even those of us who are healthy, are watery eyes, coughing, runny noses. We’re especially worried about people, again, that have respiratory disease and heart disease that are having trouble breathing or feeling faint or feeling numbness in their left arm, which is usually a signal for potential heart problems,” Magzamen said.
“One thing we ask of you is that you please take your medication with you, especially if you’re taking preventive medication. Be sure that you have (your medications) with you, that your prescriptions are up to date,” she added.
Recommendations include the following:
• Minimizing or stopping outdoor activities, especially exercise.
• Staying indoors with windows and doors closed as much as possible.
• Not running fans that bring smoky outdoor air inside — such as swamp coolers, whole-house fans, and fresh air ventilation systems.
• Run your air conditioner only if it does not bring smoke in from the outdoors. Change the standard air conditioner filter to a medium or high-efficiency filter. If available, use the “re-circulate” or “recycle” setting on the unit.
• Not smoking or frying food, or doing other things that will create indoor air pollution.
The district distributes smoke advisories via email. To request being added to its mailing list you may send an email to [email protected] or call 707-443-3093.
Mario Cortez can be reached at 707-441-0526.