By John Cornaby – NEMCo Community Outreach Committee

Wildfire smoke this summer and fall could be a major issue. As we have seen in the national news, the East Coast and Midwest areas of the U.S. have already seen periods of very bad air quality due to smoke from Canadian wildfires, with this smoke even expected to reach Europe. In past years, we have experienced very bad air quality due to wildfires in British Columbia, as well as our local area. This year, there have already been small fires on the Olympic Peninsula, with projections showing that this season will be extended. This means that we can expect to see fires in our region and that now is the time to prepare for the very real possibility of heavy smoke in the air.

According to the Seattle and King County Public Health, when wildfires burn, they produce smoke…

“… that contains gases and fine particles. These fine particles are smaller than ten microns; for comparison, diameter of a human hair is forty to fifty microns. And the particles are particularly bad for human health. They can be breathed into the lungs, where they can act as respiratory tract irritants, and smaller particles can even penetrate deeper into the bloodstream and cause widespread inflammation. Children, adults sixty-five and older, pregnant people and people with lung or heart conditions are particularly vulnerable. “ []

They have several recommendations on how to protect yourself and your home, including wearing the correct mask and creating “clean rooms.” NEMCo encourages everyone to explore their website for additional ideas on how to ensure you and your family have masks available and a way to take smoke particles out of the air in your home.

The right type of mask is important. The supply of blue medical masks from Covid and even the KN95 masks are not sufficient. You should have a mask that is classified as a respirator, such as an N95 or P100. A respirator mask should have two straps that go around your head, not just hook over the ears. While N95 masks were in short supply during Covid they are available now. You should pick some up before smoke arrives in our area and the rush starts depleting these supplies. P100 masks are very effective at filtering out smoke and gases but are more cumbersome to wear. If you are really sensitive or have existing respiratory issues, it might be something you want to consider.

If you have an air conditioning system in your home be sure that filters have been cleaned or replaced to better filter out smoke particles that get in. If you don’t have a filtering system, you can make one from a box fan and furnace air filter. The University of Washington link below has a graphic explaining how to do this. Again, think about preparing ahead of time instead of trying to find box fans when the heat increases, or smoke arrives.

How to make a box fan filter to clean indoor air of smoke | Interdisciplinary Center for Exposures, Diseases, Genomics and Environment

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