October 21, 2020
This year’s wildfire season is record-breaking. In the US, millions of acres of land and property have burned, with tens of thousands of people evacuated. In early October, the California Fire Department reported more than 15,000 firefighters relentlessly working to contain 22 major wildfires throughout the state.
Not only does wildfire season incur death, injury and property and environmental damage, it poses serious health risks, too. Ash, when disturbed, can break into smaller, hard-to-see particles that can easily be inhaled. These particles, particularly at a size known as PM2.5, can trigger asthma or cause secondary ailments in the future. Children, seniors, and those with lung- or heart-related ailments become particularly vulnerable to the damaging relationship between wildfire smoke and air quality.
Whether you’re near the source, or hundreds or even thousands of miles away, wildfire smoke can still affect you and your indoor air quality (IAQ). According to our own data, levels of particulate matter were five times higher than usual during wildfires. CO2 also increased about 300 points, while toxic VOC levels tripled - all of this indoors.
The above graph illustrates the spike in PM2.5 readings on indoor air quality monitors within 30 miles of the SF Bay Area.
This graph illustrates the spike in CO2 readings on and around Sept 9, 2020, the day the sky was orange in SF.
This graph illustrates the increase in TVOCs readings during 'Very Unhealthy' air alert days.
If you live on the West Coast of the United States or other wildfire-prone areas, such as Australia, here are some tips to help you breathe easier during the wildfire season.
It is absolutely dangerous to stay in the vicinity of a raging wildfire. Aside from the dangers of the fire itself, dense wildfire smoke and air quality degraded by ash can trigger serious threats to health. However, if the source of the smoke during wildfire season is far from your home, or if authorities advise or allow you to stay inside, perform these steps to control your IAQ:
Authorities will often inform homeowners when it’s finally safe to return to their homes or begin the cleaning and clearing process. Here’s some advice on how to safely clean up the damage that the wildfire wrought.
Wildfire season can cause terrible disruptions to people's lives. Prepare for wildfire season as much as you can in advance and follow all instructions of your local authorities. If you are more distant from the immediate fire dangers, keep an eye on the impacts of smoky air - particularly on your indoor environment.
Even though wildfires result from natural and human causes we can’t always control, prioritizing your health in these conditions is important. Having knowledge about air quality, indoors and out, is empowering. One step of many to be fully prepared for wildfire smoke is to constantly track and monitor your indoor air quality. When you notice degradation to your indoor air quality, there are fairly easy steps to help you mitigate for better health and safety indoors.
To better understand the impact unhealthy outdoor air quality has on indoor environments, Awair aggregated data from its indoor air quality (IAQ) monitors during the smoked-filled air days due to fires along the West Coast of the United States.
We tend to underestimate dust--we’ve all been guilty of letting dust pile up in our homes, especially in harder-to-reach surfaces. Failing to keep the dust in our homes under control, however, can have more consequences than we realize.
We all learned in science class that plants take in carbon dioxide and output oxygen, but as adults we rarely put two and two together to realize that house plants are built to be natural air filters! The concept is simple: plants take in benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde, the three most harmful indoor toxins, and produce clean air for us to breath. Adding the right house plants to your home is an easy way to help keep your indoor air cleaner.