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The Global Impact of California Wildfires

The Global Impact of California Wildfires

 If you research poor air quality countries of the world, you’ll discover that 5 countries host the majority of the 50 top cities for air pollution, they include India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, and Mongolia.  When examining air quality in the USA LA, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Denver are often named.  Act Earth Wise is headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, just outside of Seattle.  And if you live in the area, or saw on the national news, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver B.C. all topped the list for the worst air quality in the world, each exceeding the EPA’s “very unhealthy” warning with an AQI (Air Quality Index) over 200.  It is referred to as short-term particle pollution when a city atypically experiences sudden air quality health concerns.  This is a critically important listing as particle pollution can be harmful if inhaled for just a few hours and these events may last for days or weeks.

The western coastal states of the US have been experiencing heavy fires for months. California has recorded the worst fires in history, as rising temperatures fuel more destructive fires.  At the concussion of last week, the Los Angeles Times reported over 3 million acres have burnt this year.  Oregon and Washington States have also seen record fires, however, areas on the  Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic National Forest (west of Seattle) have boded better with just a small number of lighting strike fires, which begs the question, why would Seattle and Portland have such dangerous air quality, the results of forest fire smoke?

On September 2nd, NASA’s Terra satellite showed a massive cloud of smoke blowing out into the Pacific Ocean from the August Complex Fire, which consisted of 38 separate fires, and had burnt over 846,000 acres. This combined with other fires in the state forms a cloud of smoke that has traveled greater than 1000 miles over the Pacific Ocean and northwards until being blown back over land in Oregon, Washington, and Canada.  A cloud that can be seen from space and in the skies as far east as Boston.

A video posted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows smoke from the fires in California, Oregon, and Washington being pulled into a swirl over the ocean.

Image:  Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, public domain.

Who is impacted most by smoke from forest fires?

Essentially everyone including your pets. Unhealthy air can be especially dangerous to sensitive groups including the elderly, persons with heart and lung disease, or respiratory illnesses like asthma, all should heed the medical warnings and stay inside.  Healthier people should also avoid strenuous outside activities, as well as reduce extensive cardio-vascular activities indoors until the air quality improves. The best thing you can do is pay attention to your local weather news anchors as most will provide air quality updates and regional/local warnings and recommendations.

What can you do?

Health experts urged residents to stay indoors with the doors and windows closed and leaving the house when mandatory.  Fans, air purifiers, and air conditioners can help keep air circulating in the home.  However, avoid using a vacuum cleaner as the fine dust particles cannot be trapped by most vacuums and instead will redistribute the dust particles back into the air.

Should I buy an air purifier or upgrade my air conditioner?

Wildfire smoke particles reside in the range of .4 to .7 microns in size and are referred to as fine particles or PM2.5.   Modern air purifiers that protect at PM2.5 are excellent at cleaning the air in your home, or business.  The measurement of PM2.5 is important because the particle in this range are small enough to bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs.  A high-quality HEPA purifier or a medical-grade air purifier, sized appropriately for the area to be filtered, are very effective tools to clean indoor air.  Your air conditioner or HVAC system may use or offer an add-on that supports the addition of a HEPA filter.  Check with the manufacturer to learn if this option is available for your product or system.  Additionally, if purchasing a new air purifier consider a model that uses an additional activated carbon filter or plasma filters to also remove potentially hazardous chemicals (VOC - volatile organic compound) from the air. 

If you are not in the market for a new air purifier or must venture outdoors under dangerous or hazardous air quality warnings, wearing a high-quality PM2.5 rated mask can help significantly.  N-95, P100 (oil resistant), KN-95, and the European FFP2 masks are effective if worn properly.  Brands like Metamask have designed and produced PM2.5 masks for a decade and recently introduced a removal filter so the mask can be washed, and filters replaced so they always perform like new.

To learn more about the air quality in your city look to the EPA, they maintain a map of the current air quality across the U.S., providing a warning for US cities when air quality levels reach unhealthy, very unhealthy, or hazardous.

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