Breathing smoke from wildfires isn’t healthy for anyone, but some people are more likely to have health problems when the air quality isn’t good
VANCOUVER — With the warming weather and dry conditions, wildfire season is likely on its way and has already begun elsewhere in the state. Clark County Public Health is urging residents to take steps now to prepare for smoky days with unhealthy air quality.
Breathing smoke from wildfires isn’t healthy for anyone, but some people are more likely to have health problems when the air quality isn’t good. Those at risk for problems include children, adults older than 65, people with heart and lung diseases, people with respiratory infections and colds, anyone who has had a stroke, pregnant women and individuals who smoke.
The best way to protect your health when the air is smoky is to limit time outdoors and reduce physical activity. This is especially important for people at risk for health problems when air quality isn’t good.
Here are some steps to take now, before air quality worsens from wildfire smoke:
- Know where to find information about local air quality. The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Air Quality Monitoring website has a map of air quality statewide. The map uses color-coded categories to report when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy. The Southwest Clean Air Agency has current air quality information for Clark, Cowlitz and Lewis counties and may issue advisories when poor air quality is forecast.
- If you or a family member has heart or lung disease, talk to your doctor about precautions to take when air quality is unhealthy. Make sure you have the necessary medications, and ask your doctor how to manage symptoms and when to seek medical care.
- Develop a relocation plan in case you need to leave the area when air quality is hazardous.
- Consider purchasing a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter. Make sure your vehicle has a HEPA-equivalent air filter.
- Know how to turn the air conditioner in your home and vehicle to recirculate to avoid bringing smoky outdoor air inside.
- Create a plan for alternatives to outdoor family activities. If the air quality is unhealthy, you may need to exercise indoors, find alternatives to outdoor summer camps or change vacation arrangements.
- Consider purchasing a respirator mask labeled N95 or N100 and learn how to properly wear it. People who must be outside for extended periods of time in smoky air may benefit from wearing one of these masks, if worn correctly. If the mask does not fit properly, it will provide little or no protection and may offer a false sense of security. These masks are not recommended for children or people with beards. People with lung disease, heart disease or who are chronically ill should consult a health care provider before using a mask.
When air is smoky, here are some additional steps to take to protect yourself and your family:
- Limit time outdoors and avoid vigorous physical activity.
- Keep windows and doors closed.
- Turn the air conditioner in your home and vehicle to recirculate to avoid bringing smoky outdoor air inside.
- Don’t pollute your indoor air. Avoid burning candles, using aerosol products, frying food and smoking.
- Do not vacuum unless using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Vacuuming stirs up dust and smoke particles.
- Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Clark County Public Health Smoke from Wildfires webpage
- Washington State Department of Health Smoke From Fires webpage
Information provided by Clark Co. WA Communications.