Tuesday, October 26, 2021
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Avoid Wildfire-Related Sicknesses: Check Air Quality to Protect Your Health  
By Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media  
Published September 24, 2020

This year’s wildfire season has already been out of the ordinary. About3.3 million acreshaveburnedacrossvasttractsof California, Oregon and Washington.The areas surrounding those placeshavealsobeenaffected bydangerous levels ofsmokeoverthe last few weeks. 

 Althoughthe skies in the Bay Area are nolonger orangeandtheair quality has improved, wildfire season is not over. Therefore,officials are advisingpeople living close to wildfiresto learn more about how air quality affectstheirhealth. 

“Anytime we have any major wildfires, we often see some very high levels of air pollution,”saidDr. Jo Kay Ghosh,the Health Effects Officer at South Coast Air Quality Management District, the regulatory agency responsible for improving air quality for large areas of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.  

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She spoke to California Black Media about how unhealthy air quality affectsourhealth. 

“Mostof us have been experiencingburning eyes,or a scratchy throat, a headache,orcoughing,” shesaid. But for some people, these high levels of particle air pollution can cause more serious health problems such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks and heart attack.” 

Some Black communities in Californiaarealreadyexposed tohigher levelsof air pollution.A number of studieshave found thatthatdangerous amounts ofcontaminants continue to poisonthe airinAfrican-American and lower-income areaseven as theydecreasein higher-incomeand predominantly Whiteareas.  

Severalstudieshavealsofoundthat wildfires are growing contributors to fine-particle pollution across the West Coast.Thoughthe long-term health effects of exposure to fine-particle pollution and smog are well-established, there has been little research on the long-term effects of wildfire smoke, according toenvironmental experts.   

“We know that some communities that are living near a lot of sources of air pollution like freeways or areas where there’s a lot of industrial activity, we knowthat these communities are often disproportionately impacted by these types of health conditions. Sowhenever we have this kind of poor air quality during wildfires, we definitely recommend to take precaution because these high levels of pollution can cause some serious health problems,”Ghosh said. 

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 The U.S. Air Quality Index(AQI)measures the amount of air pollution on a scale from 0 to 500. It increases as air quality gets worse, with an AQI value over 300 representing hazardous air quality. When the AQI reaches between 101 and 150, members of sensitivegroups may experience health effects, and at 151 or higher, members of the general public may experience health effects, with the risk getting higher as the AQI increases.  

Ghosh recommends that community members check their air quality frequently, asconditions can change quickly. South CoastAir Quality Management Districthas an air quality app available on their website in both English and Spanish. 

“When we have wildfire conditions, your air quality can change hour to hour and sometimes even within a few minutes, because the wind conditions really affect which direction the smoke is going. Some areas might see moderate air quality, and maybe in the next hour, it might go all the way up to unhealthy. So definitely check what the conditions are in your area at that time.” 

Ghoshsays there are a fewpreventivemeasuresall Californiansaffected by poor quality of airorwho live near wildfires— cantake, too, tomanagetheir health. 

“Ifyou’re seeing that your air quality in your area is unhealthy, try to stay indoors if your doors and windows shut.If you have an air conditioner, air purifier you can run that to help filter out particles that may have gotten indoors. But you know thoseunits can be pretty expensive. So actually, there are some instructions available to create a temporary air purifier.If you can get a box fan and a disposable air filter, you can create a temporary air filter that you can use it in a bedroom.” 

The SouthCoast AQMD app is available ataqmd.gov/mobileapp  

Categories: Health | News
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