My heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by the California wildfires. We were on alert for a couple days in the Berkeley Hills where we live but were never really under serious threat. However, I have a few close friends whose homes burned or have been directly affected in other ways. The scale of this catastrophe and the number of people impacted are enormous.
But it’s not just the direct effects of the fire that are of concern; the indirect effects, particularly the decline in air quality throughout the Bay Area and parts of the Los Angeles area, are also significant.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from these effects:
You can do this on Air Now, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, or a weather website that includes the Air Quality Index (AQI) ratings, like Wunderground. For example, go to Wunderground.com, type in your zip code, and on the results page scroll down to where it says “air quality.”
Be aware that the AQI can change on an hourly basis, since it’s highly dependent on prevailing winds and other conditions. For example, the other day in Berkeley, where I live, the AQI went from “moderate” in the morning when I woke up to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” a couple of hours later to “unhealthy” by the afternoon.
Know someone near wildfires? Have them check their air quality.
In the Bay Area, you can sign up for Spare the Air email or text alerts, or download the Spare the Air app (iOS and Android). For other locations, the Air Quality app by AirVisual (iOS and Android) looks like a good one.
Here is a scale that explains the different AQI ratings:
I consider anything about 50 to be of concern, especially to those who are sensitive to PM2.5, which are the tiny particulates that can travel deep into the respiratory tract and into the lungs. According to the New York Department of Health website:
Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Exposure to fine particles can also affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Scientific studies have linked increases in daily PM2.5 exposure with increased respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits, and deaths. Studies also suggest that long-term exposure to fine particulate matter may be associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. People with breathing and heart problems, children, and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM.
If the AQI is at moderate or above, I believe it is prudent to take steps to protect yourself, especially if you have respiratory issues or other chronic health problems, including obesity and diabetes. Pregnant women, infants, children, and the elderly are also more susceptible. The higher the AQI, the more you should limit exposure. Steps could include:
Remember to continue checking the air quality levels on a regular basis, since they can change so quickly. Don’t rely on subjective indicators like the smell or appearance of the air—use the resources above to check the AQI in your local area.
I hope this helps to keep you and your family safe if you live in a wildfire-affected area.
FB Video Course