Air Quality Awareness Week Day 1: Wildfires & Smoke

This blog is part of a series about air quality and your health. We encourage you to check the Air Quality Index to decide when it’s best to be active outdoors.

National Air Quality Awareness Week is May 3 - 7, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) is reminding Nevadans: "Healthy Air – Important for Everyone!” Throughout the week, we will be sharing helpful information and resources about Nevada’s air quality on this blog. Look for new air quality related themes each day!

Where There’s Smoke…

The height of wildfire season is right around the corner, so today’s focus is on “Wildfires and Smoke.” 2020 was one of the worst wildfire seasons for the western U.S. in recent history. Air quality in Northern Nevada reached the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups AQI category (or worse) on 20 days between August 1 and September 30. Wildfires are becoming more frequent and more intense – so how can you prepare?

Wildfires can put a lot of smoke into the air, even from hundreds of miles away. But smoke can come from several sources, including wood stoves and fireplaces, to prescribed fires used by local, state, and federal land managers to reduce fuels for wildfires.

Particle pollution (also known as particulate matter, or PM) is the primary pollutant of concern in smoke. Exposure to these particles can lead to health effects ranging from minor (like eye and/or respiratory tract irritation) to more serious (making asthma and heart problems worse, or even death).

Reducing exposure to smoke is the best way to avoid these health effects. But there are many other ways to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe. This is especially important for children, the elderly, and those with underlying health concerns like heart or lung disease. So start to prepare for smoke now – before wildfires happen.

Ways to Prepare

  • If you or a loved one has underlying health concerns – like asthma or heart/lung disease – check with your doctor about what to do during smoke events.
  • Check with an air conditioner expert (or click here) about what kind of filter you can use in your air conditioner  to protect your indoor air quality.
  • Buy (or make!) a portable air cleaner BEFORE wildfire season picks up. Check with the manufacturer to make sure it has a high efficiency HEPA filter and that it is the correct size for the area where you plan to install it.
  • Purchase a supply of N95 respirators and learn how to use them. According to the Centers for Disease Control:
    • Cloth masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health.
    • Although N95 respirators do provide protection from wildfire smoke, they might be in short supply as frontline healthcare workers use them during the pandemic.
  • Create a “clean room” in your home. Select a room with as few doors and windows as possible (and no fireplace) and use a portable air cleaner in that room.
  • Stock up on supplies so you don’t have to go out when air quality is poor. This includes medications as well as groceries. Be sure to choose foods that don’t need to be broiled or fried. 

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Other Resources

Learn More About Nevada and Air Quality