Wildfires are natural disasters that are becoming more and more frequent as the years go by, with many states in the Northwest region of the United States impacted by these devastating fires. These fires have a drastic impact on the air quality within the affected areas, which in turn can lead to potentially significant health effects to humans who are exposed to this smoke that is traveling in the air. Similar to any kind of smoke, wildfire smoke contains hazardous components within its construction such as chemicals, soot, and fine particulate matter that upon exposure (inhalation or ingestion) will wreak havoc on an individual’s health.
Last year, wildfires raged in the Northwest United States with 58,083 wildfires that burned close to 8.8 million acres. This caused a significant impact on the overall air quality that was sweeping through the Northwest and left many people grabbing for protection from this potentially hazardous air pollution within their outdoor and indoor air.
What are the potential effects of wildfire smoke on air quality and how can this tainted air affect the health of those exposed?
What is Smoke Made Of?
The construction of wildfire smoke is a highly complex mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, gaseous chemicals, and particulate matter that can suspend into the air and significant impact the air quality within the effected areas. The composition of wildfire smoke can vary greatly depending on the materials that are burned, how hot the fire gets, and what the weather conditions outside are like – these will all play a factor in the level of chemicals and contaminants present in wildfire smoke.
During and after a fire, hundreds and thousands of chemicals can be found in smoke along with the ash. These compounds can be fairly dangerous to people and the environment. The compounds that are found in smoke can include corrosive gases, particulate matter, hydrocarbons, fats & oils, and resins & waxes. When humans are in close relation to these compounds from the smoke, it can severely alter their health from breathing in the gaseous chemicals like carbon monoxide, methane, acetic acid, and formaldehyde.
Wildfire Smoke Particles Size
Among the different hazards found in smoke, the most dangerous to humans is particulate matter which can enter into the body and reach into the deep recesses of the lungs, causing potentially severe health issues. Particulate matter can range in size from larger to microscopic, which can lead to different issues. Larger particles found in wildfire smoke will lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation. Whereas the smaller, fine particulate matter which is smaller than the diameter of a human hair, can become ingested and reach the lungs and sometimes go into the bloodstream.
The particulate matter found in wood smoke has a size range near the wavelength of light which ranges between 0.4 microns to 0.7 microns in size.
Wildfire Smoke Inhalation Symptoms
Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, particularly in large quantities of exposure. The poor air quality from wildfire smoke can affect people’s health in a variety of ways. The symptoms that are triggered by wildfire smoke is mainly caused by the fine particulate matter that travels within the wildfire smoke and leads to irritation in the respiratory tract. Although the toxic gases found in wildfire smoke will also lead to a flair in symptoms that can severely plague an individual as well.
Some symptoms will be more severe than others and these symptoms can range from the following:
- Burning eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Runny nose
People Who Are Most at Risk from Wildfire Smoke
As we discussed, wildfire smoke can affect people differently, specifically people who are more susceptible like children, babies, the elderly, and those with health conditions.
Children are extremely susceptible to wildfire smoke health effects, as their lungs are still immature and are developing which will leave them at risk. Exposure to smoke is particularly dangerous because kids breathe in more air per breath than adults which means that they can inhale more pollutants from smoke than adults. Some children suffer from asthma which can also be exacerbated by the smoke produced from wildfires.
Wildfire smoke can also significantly affect those with heart disease and chronic lung disease like asthma and emphysema. Researchers have found a link to high levels of particulate matter with decreased lung function, which can drastically impact those with asthma, heart problems, and lung problems.
Pregnant women will also be at risk from exposure to wildfire smoke, as inhalation of smoke and the gases/particulates found in it can affect the baby’s health.
How to Reduce Indoor Exposure to Wildfire Smoke
Smoke from a wildfire will spread rapidly and disperse throughout the impacted area, leaving no area untainted by the plumes that taint the air. Although typically when we think of wildfires, we think of the contaminated outdoor air, but indoor air can be just as much at risks, as it will creep into a home or office and significantly affect the air and the health of those exposed.
What can you do to shield your indoor environments from the intrusion of outdoor wildfire smoke? Some people will turn to breathing masks, some will replace their HVAC filters to help filter contaminated air, others will completely lock their home’s down leaving no windows and doors open, and most importantly people will implement air purifiers for wildfire smoke in their home to help mitigate the invading smoke in their home’s air.
Do Air Conditioners Filter Wildfire Smoke?
Air handling filters, or HVAC filters are key components to particulate removal inside your home. These filters are designed to capture and remove particulate matter from your air to help improve the quality of the air that you breathe in your living space. There are many different types of HVAC filters available that consumers can select from, some far superior to others when it comes to removing the harmful substances found in wildfire smoke. Therefore, it is best to purchase a higher quality filter that contains neutralization capabilities for the gases, particulates, and odors associated with smoke.
Air Purifier Mask for Wildfire Smoke
Wildfire smoke can have major effects from eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation just from exposure or inhalation of the smoke from the air. The air can actually be hard to breathe when wildfire smoke plumes contaminate the air, this will leave people scrambling to find a solution, such as a filtered face mask for particulate and chemical protection. The best way to shield yourself from wildfire smoke is to wear an air purifier mask that will filter out the contaminants from your air. Respirator masks were designed to be air purifier within face masks, as the technology will filter out the bad pollutants from the air, particularly from wildfire smoke that contains gaseous chemicals, particulates, and other hazardous compounds. Be sure to select a wildfire smoke mask that fits you properly and that has the capability to remove those hazardous compounds produced from wildfire smoke in the air that you are breathing.
Wildfire Air Purifier
Air purifiers can be very helpful when it comes to mitigating smoke produced from wildfires in the air, however, depending on the air purifier some may vary in effectiveness against wildfire smoke. HEPA filters are known to be among the best option for your air purifier for wildfire smoke. A HEPA filter provides particulate removal as small as 0.3 microns in size, this will help to eradicate the many particulates found in wildfire smoke. In relation to other air purifier technologies like carbon air filters, carbon works by weight and as the filter fills up it will begin re-releasing the chemicals and odors that it had previously captured. This will be dangerous for both the environment and the health of those in the environment.
The EnviroKlenz Air Purifier, however, is a great solution for wildfire smoke as it contains both a patented earth mineral technology for VOC, gaseous chemical, and noxious odor removal, along with a hospital-grade HEPA filter for particulate removal. EnviroKlenz is unlike any other air purifier technology, and when it comes to wildfire smoke the EnviroKlenz technology will completely eradicate those hazardous components of its smoke from the air.
Mobile Air System
✓ Patented earth mineral technology works to attack VOCs and break them down on a compound level
✓ No chemicals or masking agents
✓ Will not release any chemicals back into your environment
✓ Safer and faster at removing VOC’s than traditional carbon filters and PECO air purifiers