Take these Top 10 steps before and during a wildfire smoke event
The smoke has moved away and your air quality has returned to normal...for now. So now is exactly the right time to prepare for the next wildfire smoke event --before it begins. Being prepared will go a long way to keeping your air quality safe.
Here are steps you can take now, compiled from sources including the CDC, the EPA, and other experts.
What to do before wildfire smoke arrives
- Check out this live map from airnow.gov showing wildfires and smoke plumes. The traveling path may surprise you.
- Sign up to receive email alerts about your local air quality forecast.
- Get informed with EPA Factsheets about protecting your lungs, your family, your home, and your pets.
- As recommended by the EPA, invest in a high-quality in-room air purifier, like Brio
What to do after the wildfire smoke arrives
- Stay indoors and close windows and doors. This will help to keep the smoke out of your home.
- Increase the humidity in your air by running a humidifier or turning on the shower. Moist air helps to trap smoke particles. You can also run your air conditioner on recirculation mode for additional filtration.
- Pay attention to any health symptoms, particularly if you have asthma, COPD, heart disease, or are pregnant. Get medical help if you need it.
- Don’t forget your pets. They should be kept indoors as much as possible.
- If you must go out, avoid strenuous exercise or activity. Consider wearing a mask. As reported in The New York Times, N95 masks can help reduce the smoke that you inhale.
- Avoid activities that can increase PM2.5. Don’t use candles, gas, propane, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, or aerosol sprays and don’t fry or broil meat, smoke tobacco products, or vacuum.
Should we expect more wildfire smoke from distant fires this summer?
The summer wildfire season has barely begun and, according to the Canadian government, “Canada is on track for its worst wildfire season.” Whether that affects you depends entirely on weather and wind patterns. Given the rate of increase in wildfires over the last several years, it is a safe assumption that you may experience several poor air quality days due to distant, traveling wildfire plumes. Compounding the concern, wildfire smoke pollution adds to other causes of poor IAQ – from smog, manufacturing and auto exhaust, drought-driven environmental dust, mold spores, and pollen.
The US wildfire forecast for 2023 is a wildcard, due to heavy rain and snow in recent months. and resulting moisture that may delay the start of the season. That late start doesn’t preclude an intense finish, however. According to a CBS News report, “the risk of damaging wildfires continues to trend upward as the climate warms, one factor making it more difficult to predict how the season will shake out.”
How can I find out if wildfire smoke is coming my way? If my air quality is affected?
Wind-and-weather driven wildfire smoke can be forecast, but it does not have a completely predictable path. It can also be extremely localized, affected by topography and local climate variations.
What is in all that smoke?
The composition of smoke can vary from one wildfire to the next, but the main ingredient is particulate matter. Particles that are 2.5 microns and smaller, including ultrafine particles, are collectively categorized as PM2.5. Other wildfire ingredients can include combustion by-products such as benzene, formaldehyde, lead and mercury compounds along with carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide, all of which are harmful if inhaled. In wildfire smoke, PM2.5 is the most prevalent and as a result the most likely to trigger health issues.
Thanks to the Clean Air Act, overall PM concentrations in the air have declined significantly. The EPA reports that “Between 1970 and 2021, the combined emissions of the six common pollutants dropped by 78 percent.” As pointed out in a Time Magazine article titled What does Wildfire Smoke do to the Human Body, that progress is being offset by wildfire smoke pollution in affected regions: “Despite reductions in PM2.5 emissions across the country, wildfires are leading to an overall increase in PM2.5 levels in the U.S. Northwest, which is particularly prone to wildfires.” Increasing drought is expanding that increase to other regions of the U.S.
How dangerous is PM 2.5? Wildfire smoke?
The concern over PM2.5 exposure, which lead to the creation of the Clean Air Act, is well-founded. According to the California Air Resources Board: “Short-term exposures (up to 24-hours duration) [to PM2.5] have been associated with premature mortality, increased hospital admissions for heart or lung causes, acute and chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, emergency room visits, respiratory symptoms, and restricted activity days. These adverse health effects have been reported primarily in infants, children, and older adults with preexisting heart or lung diseases.”
Long-term PM2.5 exposure has been linked to premature mortality, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lower-respiratory infections, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and adverse birth outcomes.
Recent studies have also found markers for and symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases in children living in heavily polluted environments. And in 2020, in a landmark ruling, air pollution was formally cited as the cause of death of a nine-year-old child in in England.
With wildfire smoke, the harm caused by PM2.5 goes from bad to worse. Research in California has shown that wildfire-specific PM2.5 can be up to 10 times more harmful to respiratory health than non-smoke PM2.5. This is due to both the concentration of PM2.5 created by a wildfire and to the extremely toxic composition of wildfire smoke.
What is the best type of air purifier for wildfire smoke?
Smoke particles are fine and ultrafine, so you should select an air purifier that can trap both of those sizes effectively. It is also important to keep the clean airflow as high as possible. The two primary types of air purifiers, HEPA and APART, are both effective, but their performance differs, and they require different levels of maintenance.
Fine and ultrafine particle capture
Most air purifiers on the market use HEPA filters. HEPA air purifiers can trap ultrafine particles (0.1 microns and smaller) at the same rate that they trap larger PM2.5.
APART ™ technology, found only in Brio® air purifiers, uses advanced electrostatic precipitation to remove ultrafine particles at a rate 50% higher than the removal rate for typical PM2.5. Since smoke is composed of both fine and ultrafine particles, this means Brio has enhanced effectiveness in removing smoke.
Non-clogging filtration is the key to clean airflow
HEPA air purifiers trap particles by blocking them as air passes through the filter. As a HEPA filter works, it gets clogged with the particles trapped in the filter, reducing its effectiveness. In order to keep the clean air delivery rate (CADR) close to the original CADR for a new HEPA filter, you would need to change the filter several times more often than recommended by the manufacturer. Especially in a heavily polluted environment. This gets expensive, but it is a necessary step to make sure the HEPA air purifier is doing its job.
What happens if you don’t change the filter often enough? The clean air delivery rate drops and it takes longer to clean the same room.
When it comes to effective filtration, Brio’s APART technology is a remarkable alternative to HEPA-based air purification. The patented design, developed at the University of Washington, removes fine and ultrafine particles without filter clogging, so performance stays near peak CADR levels, with no filter clogging. With Brio, your air stays clean over the entire period between cartridge replacements. Brio's long-life, non-clogging filter can last a year or longer before it needs to be changed. So, Brio saves you time and money while deep cleaning the air you breathe.
The best time to protect yourself against the next wildfire smoke event is now
It is easy to assume that wildfire smoke events are random and rare and after hunkering down, you won’t have to worry about one again. But, in fact, wildfire smoke events and poor AQI are already a regular occurrence in a growing number of locations. Be prepared with high-performing air purification.
Brio, a powerful and effective air purifier, clears the air, quickly removing toxic smoke particles with no filter clogging, thanks to patented, advanced technology. No matter what's going on outdoors, it is a good feeling to know Brio is on the job, 24x7, removing fine and ultrafine pollutants in your home. Brio keeps clean airflow high and filter cost low.
Find out why Brio is the best air purifier for wildfire smoke