Wildfire smoke and poor air quality are going to be with us for a while. The people who are most affected by poor air quality are also the most vulnerable: Children, the elderly, the disabled, and people with respiratory and heart conditions.
Air quality can fluctuate daily around the state, but it is not expected to significantly improve anytime soon. Please be aware of current conditions and keep children inside when the air quality is unhealthy. Also, check on your elderly and vulnerable neighbors to be sure the air quality is not causing them undue distress.
If you coach children or run a daycare or a school, it’s especially important to be aware of outside air conditions. Sending a child with asthma out to play when air quality is listed as orange (unhealthy for sensitive populations) or red (unhealthy for everyone) could lead to serious health effects for that child. You can check real-time air quality in many Idaho communities through the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s air monitors here.
If you’re not sure, the smoke activity guidelines above and below can help:
Stay out of the smoky air as best you can by following these suggestions:
- If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is very hot. Run a filtered air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter at a local mall, movie theater, library or some public area that can provide temporary relief from the smoke.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Avoid frying or broiling when cooking. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
- Do not add to outdoor air pollution. When smoke levels are high, try to limit activities that add to poor air quality. Don’t burn wood or anything else that will add smoke to the air. Try to limit using gas lawnmowers and driving your car during poor air quality days. Consider taking the bus or carpooling.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps dilute phlegm in the respiratory tract and makes it easier to cough out smoke particles. You should plan to cough; it is nature’s way of clearing your lungs. Avoid caffeine products, sugary drinks and alcohol because they have a dehydrating effect.
- Avoid outdoor exercise or other strenuous activities on poor air quality days. Both adults and children should limit outdoor activities when smoke levels are a concern.
- Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Keep at least a five-day supply of medications on hand. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- If you wear contact lenses, switch to eyeglasses in a smoky environment.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
To evaluate air quality in your community, daily reports and forecasts are available online from the Department of Environmental Quality at: http://www.deq.idaho.gov/air-quality/monitoring/daily-reports-and-forecasts.aspx .
For communities that are not covered by the forecasts, a good rule of thumb to gauge the air quality is miles of visibility. This information also is included in the attached chart.
- 10+ miles visibility=Good air quality
- 6-10 miles=Moderate air quality
- 3-6 miles=Unhealthy for sensitive groups
- 5-3 miles=Unhealthy for everyone
- <1.5 miles=Very Healthy/Hazardous
- For additional information on wildfire smoke visit: http://www.deq.idaho.gov/wildfire-smoke or http://idsmoke.blogspot.com/