Wildfire smoke is a toxic mix of carbon monoxide, volatile organic carbon (VOCs) and particles. The particles are one of the most dangerous elements, particularly the small particles (also known as PM 2.5) and the ultrafine particles (also called nanoparticles) Because they are so small, they can bypass the filters in our noses, and embed themselves deep into our lungs as well as travel to the heart causing breathing and cardiovascular issues. The chemistry of these particles include alkaline ash, black carbon and organic carbon, which usually contains polyaromatic hydrocarbon, a known cancer-causing agent. Particularly vulnerable are children, whose lungs are not fully developed and don’t have the same defense mechanisms as an adult, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. You may have to deal with the smoke and ash for months long after the fires have subsided. Here are 3 tips to protect yourself during and after a wildfire:
1- Check your local area reports regularly and avoid going out when air quality is poor to avoid bringing particulate matter into your home.
2- Keep windows and doors closed. You can run your AC but keep your fresh air intake temporarily closed until outside air quality improves.
3- An air purifier can clean your air of particulate matter and the VOC’s. The purifier should be HEPA certified, meaning it contains a true HEPA which is able to remove 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter and less. Any product being marketed as “comparable to HEPA” or “HEPA-like” are not true HEPA and may not be equipped to filter out particles and VOCs, so buyer beware. Particulates in wildfire smoke are mostly in the 0.4 to 0.7 range . To deal with the VOCs mostly emanating from burnt tires, oil, plastics, etc. a good carbon filter is a must to deal with the adsorption of these gases. The best air purifier for wildfire smoke is the Airpura V600 which contains a true HEPA filter and 18-lbs of carbon which has been enhanced with 17% potassium iodide to maximize the oxidization of VOCs. In lab studies, the Airpura filtration system has been proven to mitigate most VOCs in the air. It should be run at a continuous low speed. Keeping one in the bedrooms at night are especially important. It’s also important to change your filters in less than half the suggested time for the first year because of the high concentrations of particulate matter in the air that continue to linger.
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