Wildfire smoke and its impact on health
ATLANTA. – Let’s face it: all this smoke is very, very bad.
For the past few days, the greater Atlanta area has been experiencing a blanket of smoke encompassing not only the city but large swaths of counties surrounding it. From Dade to Griffin and even expanding past those two, smoke continues to drape its unwanted yet familiar scent throughout the South. All of this smoke stems from a vast amount of fires that have been burning in the southeast for almost a week. In fact, as of this morning, at least thirty of them continue to blaze forward, leaving nothing but the ashes of green pastures in their wake. The Associate Press wrote that 128,000 acres have been burned thus far between Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina.
With all of this smoke, though, it can’t possibly be healthy for living organisms to breath continuously. While we in the south don’t have it as bad as, say, Beijing does with its thick pollution problem, there’s definitely got to be some sort of negative effect to breathing these poisonous clouds of burned matter.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Now website obviously advises against breathing the stuff in. But it also gives minute detail as to what makes up smoke as well as how it causes harm to humans. Smoke has a gaseous nature because it is indeed a mixture of gases. According to a United States Department of Agriculture document on wildfire, smoke is comprised of bits of matter, gases and water vapor, with the latter taking up a bulk of the concoction. But, along with those elements, darker, more harmful ingredients tare also prevalent. Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide are among a heap of organically damaging smoke components. Along with those gases are smaller, undefined but equally destructive particles.
While hundreds of local firefighters and from across the country combat the blaze, wildfires continue to rip through N. Georgia, as well as parts of North Carolina and Tennessee. More: http://on.11alive.com/2eFl4vK
So, on the surface, smoke can seem harmless but do not be fooled; there are several underlying deadly parts that make up the façade of the whole. Exposure to high levels should be avoided New York’s Department of Health so rightly suggests. In fact, any amount of smoke can be dangerous. The same website informs that smoke “is irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat, and its odor may be nauseating.” It could also impact lung function albeit temporarily depending on exposure. These are all thanks in part to one of the more injurious aspects of smoke: carbon monoxide (CO). Increased CO intake can lead to headaches, heart woes and even reduce oxygen intake. Smaller undefined particles are also a known issue.
Air Now reports that some are more easily impressed upon by smoke than others. Those with heart or lung diseases have increased risks of not only their pre-existing conditions – leading into diseases like angina and emphysema. Older adults are too vulnerable as are children. Those exposed to smoke on a daily basis are also at risk. Firefighters, for instance, have been known to get lung diseases due to the nature of their work.
With all these threats from smoke, it’s progressively getting more difficult to protect one’s self. Both the EPA and USDA write that dust masks are not enough. They’re designed to trap large particles so smaller molecules will slip by. While there is equipment that can reduce smoke inhalation, firefighters are at the mercy of the burning blazing they are battling. And, yes, these particles can get into your home. If smoke levels are high, these molecules can build up over time. So if you’re experiencing any symptoms, be sure to call your doctor and – the USDA suggests – your county health department. Note that air filters do help but they would have to be installed PRIOR to the forest fires.
These fires will continue as long as the drought continues. While the wind may be pushing some of the smoke out of the city and its neighboring counties, it’s going to return just as the fires burn. Be sure to follow these steps in order to protect yourself.
- Pay attention to local air quality reports. These will ensure that it is safe enough for you to walk or do vigorous activities outside. Should the smoke prove too thick, leave pets indoors. The EPA has an air quality index that will help sort out whether or not outside air is safe to take in.
- Keep doors closed in order to avoid more smoke particles entering. Obtain carbon monoxide detectors if you’re afraid of exposure.
- Buy air cleaners, purifiers and filters BEFORE smoke levels are an issue.