The Importance of Air Quality

Topics: Wellness and Health

Air quality where I live in Santa Barbara, California is now poor: the horrifyingly low 10% containment of the 132,000-acre #ThomasFire (as of 12.8.17), fueled by Santa Ana gusts, has sent a thick blanket of home-burned toxins, old wildland forest and much more into the air 500 miles all around.

Smoke has an even greater impact than fire on urban health especially, because concrete tends to stop fire, but lets smoke settle. It’s smoke’s fine, microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into your lungs.

Burning houses, fuels, chemicals and their VOCs, not just timber and forest and ground cover, give people headaches and zap them of energy. Even if you don’t have a chronic illness, you can develop eye, nose, and throat irritation. If you spend too much time outside without a mask, you will likely start coughing. People with asthma, COPD, and heart disease are at much higher risk.

If you are the Southern California 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 an air purifier; there are even portable ones that you can take with you wherever you go.

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 buildings with high efficiency mechanical or electronic air cleaners, like public libraries, or like 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!