Health Hazards of Smoke from Wildfires

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Wildfire smoke can affect your health

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends people in areas affected by smoke from wildfires decrease their outdoor activity and stay indoors as much as possible. This is especially important for children, older adults, smokers and those with heart disease or asthma and other lung diseases.

Wildfire smoke can:
  • Irritate eyes, sinuses and throat;
  • Cause coughing, headaches, or a runny nose;
  • Chest pains, shortness of breath or fatigue;
  • The elderly, children and those with lung or heart conditions are more susceptible;
  • When particulate levels are high enough, even healthy people can experience symptoms.

Air Quality Index (AQI)

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) maintains Minnesota’s AQI. The AQI reports daily air quality conditions throughout the state. The greater the AQI the more care people need to take to protect themselves.

The system tracks:
  • Ozone;
  • Sulfur dioxide;
  • Carbon monoxide;
  • Fine particulates (main health issue with wildfire smoke).

More information on the AQI can be found at:
Air Quality Index for Minnesota

Protect yourself

Limit your exposure to wildfire smoke:
  • Pay attention to AQI and media reports;
  • Limit time spent outdoors;
  • Keep door s and windows closed;
  • Run air conditioning in recirculating mode only;
  • Keep fresh air intakes closed;
  • Install and maintain a clean furnace filter.

Paper dust or surgical masks commonly found in hardware stores are designed to trap large particles. These masks generally will not protect your lungs from fine particles in wildfire smoke. If you wish to use respiratory protection, be sure to use an N95 or a N100 type disposable respirator and follow manufacturer’s instructions for use.

Do not compound indoor air quality issues during wildfires

Limit indoor activities that can increase indoor air pollution like:
  • Frying and broiling;
  • Burning candles and incense;
  • Using fireplaces or gas stoves;
  • Vacuuming.

Do not smoke indoors.

Some air cleaners can help clean the indoor air, but buy them prior to any wildfire. Do not use ozone generating air cleaners.

Contact your physician

If you are susceptible to wildfire smoke, contact your physician to discuss your medications and care during wildfires.

In addition to your physical health, smoke from wildfires can reduce visibility, causing auto accidents or creating other safety hazards. Be aware of these types of hazards if you are asked to evacuate the area.

More Information:

MDH: MPCA: US Environmental Protection Agency: Other States:

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Updated Monday, 28-Apr-2014 09:22:16 CDT