This article was contributed by San Benito County Public Health Services.
California is experiencing unprecedented wildfires this summer affecting large parts of the state. Although San Benito County has not been directly impacted by major wildfires this season, wildfire smoke can travel hundreds of miles and affect large geographic areas. In addition, because it is summer time, many families are traveling to areas affected by the fires.
Air quality and smokiness can change quickly. Families should consult the air quality of their destinations when making plans. Wildfire smoke contains very small particulate matter that is breathed deep into the lungs. This form of air pollution is linked to a number of health problems, including coughing, wheezing, reduced lung function, asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. It can have long-term health impacts. Additionally, wildfire smoke may contain unknown chemicals and particles from manmade materials that have burned (homes, cars, etc.).
Some groups of people are more sensitive to the adverse health effects of wildfire smoke. They include:
- People with cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels)
- People with lung disease, including asthma and COPD
- Babies, children and teenagers
- Older adults
- Persons with obesity or diabetes
- Expectant mothers
Children are especially at risk for health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke and ash, mostly because their lungs are still growing. Children who breathe in wildfire smoke and ash can have chest pain and tightness, trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, nose, throat, and eye burning, dizziness, or other symptoms. Children with asthma, allergies or chronic health issues may have more trouble breathing when smoke or ash is present. Note that some areas are also affected by extreme heat and people who are not acclimated to the higher temperature, or are dehydrated, may experience additional stresses on their heart and lungs.
What should we do?
San Benito County Public Health Services recommends:
- Avoiding areas with poor air quality due to wildfire smoke, especially if traveling with people in the sensitive groups above
- If you are in a location with poor air quality, monitor conditions frequently and follow EPA guidelines to reduce smoke exposure and reduce health consequences
- Monitor air quality (Air Quality Index) at EPA AirNow
- Review attached EPA General Fact Sheet and EPA/PEHSU guidelines for children
For more information on the services Public Health Services provides please call (831) 637-5367, or go to San Benito Public Health Services website at http://hhsa.cosb.us/publichealth/.