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Staying healthy in smoke-filled air

Sunday, September 13, 2020

To reduce the impacts of smoky air, the Clatsop County Public Health Department recommends the following.

** Stay indoors with windows and doors closed and any gaps sealed. Avoid strenuous activity.

** If available and if needed for comfort, run an air conditioner on the “recirculate” setting. Be sure to change the filter at appropriate intervals.

Other types of room or central air filtration systems may help remove airborne particles, but they need to be selected to adequately filter the area in which they serve. Some electronic air cleaners and ozone generating “filters” can generate dangerous amounts of ozone indoors. These ozone filtration systems do not remove harmful contaminants from the air and are not recommended.

** Never operate gasoline powered generators indoors – they produce dangerous carbon monoxide. Avoid smoking, using wood stoves, and other activities that add to indoor air contamination.

**If there is a period of improved air quality, open up (air out) the house and clean to remove dust particles that have accumulated inside.

** Humidifiers or breathing through a wet washcloth may be useful in dry climates to keep mucous membranes moist, although this does nothing to prevent inhalation of contaminants.

** When riding in a car, keep windows and vents closed. If comfort requires air circulation, turn the air-conditioning on “re-circulate” to reduce the amount of outside air drawn into the car.

** Employers engaged in strenuous outdoor work should consider light duty projects if possible.

Vulnerable residents

Those with asthma, chronic lung disease or heart disease and others considered at high risk from health effects from contaminant inhalation should move to an adequate “clean air” shelter, which may be in their home, in the home of a friend or relative, or in a publicly provided “clean air” shelter.

They should also have at least one week of any respiratory medications on hand, and, for those who rely on an oxygen concentrator, to have back-up oxygen tanks in case the power goes out.

Use of masks

Paint, dust, and surgical masks are not effective obstacles to inhalation of the fine airborne particles generated by wildfires. KN-95 and N-95 masks provide better filtration of particles as long as they are fitted properly.


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