Air quality is getting worse, and it’s not just the fire, smoke and excessive heat: it’s the cauldron of toxins, VOCs and, bizarrely, the threat of diabetes that loom. The worst? the Las Vegas area had 145 days of pollution and poor air quality in 2016, a little higher than Los Angeles, which had 138 days of poor air quality.
Everyday pollution is bad enough. Air pollution causes asthma, heart disease, diabetes, not just bronchitis and cough. But smoke from wildfires–now raging all over the west–has an even greater impact than fire on urban health. Because concrete-dense urban centers tend to stop fire, but smoke there settles.
Anything less than 10 microns cannot be inhaled, but it can pass into the bloodstream. It’s smoke’s fine, 2.5 micron particles (PM2.5) that can penetrate deep into your lungs and do the most serious damage. It can aggravate asthma, decrease lung function, and lead to premature death in people with lung and heart disease. And it appears to cause about 14% of U.S. diabetes cases among U.S. veterans and significantly increase risk for breast cancer.
How? “Inhaled nanoparticles, which when sufficiently small can enter the bloodstream and interact with distant organs—including liver tissue—and exhibit affinity to accumulate at sites of vascular inflammation.” In other words, the tiny bad actor particles interrupt normal pancreatic and breast cell function.
But even without those long term consequences, air pollution hurts: headaches, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Cough. People with asthma, COPD, and heart disease are at much higher risk.
If you are in a worse-than-ever polluted region right now you can take steps to protect yourself, such as:
1. Stay inside. Make sure all your doors and windows are tightly closed. You can improve indoor air quality by running a top notch air purifier; there are even portable ones that you can take with you wherever you go. Don’t vacuum (stirs up particulates), burn candles, and do clean or replace your air conditioner’s filters.
2. If you have to be outside, use disposable respirators, labeled N95 and make sure they’re properly sealed around your face. Here’s one disposable mask that is inexpensive and works well.
3. Or, find cool centers–buildings with high efficiency mechanical or electronic air cleaners, like public libraries, senior and community theaters. Even big box stores, movie theaters and many public buildings have AC. Or use air conditioning at home, set to recirculate mode.
There are of course other factors than fires that influence air quality: burning of fossil fuels, farming chemicals, volcanic eruptions, and factory and manufacturing plant emissions are among those that can increase levels of pollutants in the air.
If you want to check the air quality of your current location, use this free Air Quality Index Map from BreezoMeter. Simply put in your address and the site will generate an air quality measurement for your area.
Click through the tabs on the upper right of the map and you will be able to see the levels of Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ozone (O3), and specific-sized particulate matter (the smaller particles are more dangerous, given the greater likelihood of inhalation).
Paying attention could help you avoid irritation and worse, infection. Breathe safe!