Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where there's Smoke

We're choking on forest fire smoke here in the LA basin, especially in the San Gabriel Valley, so I thought I'd pass on some health tips. These are especially important for people with respiratory issues and heart problems, the elderly, and children. 

"Take special care to protect children," says Norman Edelman, M.D. and Chief Medical Officer with the American Lung Association (ALA), "They are more susceptible to smoke because their respiratory systems are still developing."

My son is miserable; he's been cooped up for days. We made sure to change the filter in our A/C and are running a HEPA filter air cleaner, as recommended by both the ALA and the LA County Health Department. The health department recommends avoiding A/C units that draw outdoor air, and using a recirculated air setting if you have one. The ALA advises against air cleaners that emit ozone, as they will compound the assault on your lungs. One sign that yours is ozone-generating is the sweet smell it produces. (HEPA filters do not emit ozone.) 

Yes, shut your windows, and don't exercise outdoors.

The American Lung Association says if you're going to use a mask, make sure it's labeled "N95" or "P1000" and comes with two straps for a tight fit. Ordinary masks will filter large particles, but leave you vulnerable to the tiniest particles, which are especially dangerous. 

If you have ash in your home, use a damp cloth to clean it up, not a vacuum, which can send some of the ash flying. 

The Station fire is burning areas that have seen fire in 60 years or so. Since most scientists think the natural fire cycle is 50-150 years, the chaparral should be able to regenerate. However, if another fire returns too soon, it could destroy the ecosystem. It's a serious concern considering the number of human-caused fires we have these days. To learn how increased fire cycles are threatening Southern California ecosystems, check out this magazine piece I wrote last fall: Sparking the Fires

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