Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Smoke from wildfires throughout the Bay Area is impacting air quality.  

Spare the Air Status

See our hourly air quality data for the most up-to-date information, as well as Press Releases, @AirDistrict, and our Wildfire Safety Tips web page.  Sign up for Bay Area Air Alerts.

Wildfire Safety

The California wildfire season usually takes place between spring and late fall. The Air District monitors general air quality in the Bay Area and will notify the public if wildfire smoke appears to be causing elevated levels of particulate pollution in the region.

Air Quality Resources

During wildfire incidents this year, the following resources may be of use:

In recent years, California has been plagued by an unprecedented series of wildfires with accompanying dense palls of smoke - the result of years of impacts brought about by climate change.

When wildfire smoke is afflicting the Bay Area, here are some ways you can be prepared and protect your family’s health.

In general, stay aware of local news coverage or health warnings related to smoke. Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, avoid physical outside activities and don't let your children play outdoors.

How to Prepare for Wildfire Smoke

  • Weatherize the home in preparation for wildfires by replacing or refurbishing old leaky windows and doors; use caulking to seal the openings.
  • Consider purchasing a non-ozone producing air purifier (HEPA) to create a cleaner air room in the home, or consider purchasing a MERV 13 or greater filter for your HVAC system to be used when we are experiencing a heavy smoke event.
  • Consider upgrading to an HVAC system that allows for both heating and cooling and has the mechanism to switch to RECIRCULATE to prevent smoke from entering the space.
  • Individuals with health conditions should talk to their physicians to develop a personal plan for smoke.
  • Identify locations in your community that have cleaner filtered air spaces such as:
    • indoor shopping malls
    • local libraries
    • cooling centers
    • community centers
    • civic centers
    • local government buildings
  • Make a plan to go to a cleaner air location if you are unable to seal your home or if dense smoke occurs during hot weather events.

Special Health Concerns Related to Wildfire Smoke

  • Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a dry scratchy throat and irritated sinuses. Drink plenty of water during heavy smoke events.
  • Elevated particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema, COPD or other respiratory conditions.
  • Elderly persons, pregnant women, children and individuals with respiratory illnesses are particularly susceptible to elevated air pollution levels and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure.
  • Those with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant women, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and either move or reschedule outdoor activities.
  • Asthmatics should follow their asthma management plan.
  • Individuals should contact their physician if they have symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms believed to be caused by the smoke. Concerned individuals should consult their physician for personalized recommendations.

What to Do During a Smoke Event

  • Leave the affected area, if possible, for the duration of the heavy smoke event.
  • Staying indoors with windows and doors closed, where air quality is better, is the best way to protect your health. During high heat and heavy smoke events, keep indoor air cool or visit a cleaner air-cooling center.
  • Set air conditioning units and car vent systems to recirculate to prevent outside air from moving inside.
  • Avoid adding additional air pollution by curtailing activities such as wood burning, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, driving, barbecuing, or other dust-producing activities.
  • Bandanas and typical surgical masks do nothing to protect against wildfire smoke particles.
  • There is no clear evidence that N95 respirator use by the general public is beneficial to an individual’s health during wildfire smoke air quality events, and there could be harmful consequences.
  • If individuals desire a mask, only N-95 or N-100 respirator masks should be worn.
  • Masks may not provide you with the protection needed.
  • Masks, when worn properly, can become uncomfortable and hot.
  • A properly fitted N-95 respirator makes it difficult to breathe and is difficult to use for long periods of time.
  • Taking a mask on and off can cause fine particulate matter to build up in the mask, which the wearer will breathe when it is put back on the face.
  • Wearing an ill-fitted mask can lead to a false sense of security and lead to overexertion.
  • Do not save and reuse N-95 masks.
  • N-95s may be dangerous for certain persons with lung or heart conditions and may lead to:
    • increased heart rate
    • increased respiratory rate
    • labored breathing
  • Certified N95s are not available for children. Children should not wear these masks—they do not fit properly and can impede breathing.

Last Updated: 9/15/2020