The Wildfire Smoke Guide from Project N95
A record number of wildfires in North America are spreading smoke across the U.S. As flames rage throughout summer and into autumn, it's as important as ever to know how to stay safe.
How can you understand the effects of wildfire smoke? How can you protect yourself from wildfire smoke inhalation? What can you do to reduce the risks of hazardous particulate matter at home, work, and school? This guide will help you understand the risks and protect yourself and your indoor air quality from wildfire smoke events.
Get up to speed on the risks
It's helpful to understand why wildfire smoke poses such a threat.
Many people already understand some of the risks of air pollution that comes from power plants and vehicle emissions. Did you know that wildfire smoke contains some of the same particulate matter?
While it may be obvious that living next to a factory poses health risks, smoke can travel across states, countries, and even oceans. Fires that are thousands of miles away spread harmful byproducts, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), that can reach your home.
Numerous studies have shown that exposure to PM2.5 (smaller than 0.3 micron) negatively affects public health. It can exacerbate lung and heart conditions and can trigger asthma and even heart attacks, which can be fatal. In fact, air pollution contributes to serious health effects and nearly 11,000 annual deaths in the U.S., according to a 2021 estimate.
While wildfire smoke inhalation and fine particles are unsafe for everyone, some populations are especially vulnerable. "Sensitive groups" need to be particularly aware of the dangers of poor air quality. These groups include children and older adults, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. They should be careful to limit their smoke exposure.
Get up-to-date information on fires
The first step towards protecting yourself is knowing when to protect yourself. Even at great distances, wildfires produce smoke that may end up in your area.
Be sure to follow local news sources and government agencies that provide information and outdoor air quality reports. Real-time air quality data also helps you stay up-to-speed on local conditions.
If you're dealing with poor air quality, it's best to stay inside with your doors and windows closed. It's also important, however, to know when the air is bad inside your home.
Get an air quality monitor
When the air quality is bad outside, it's a good idea to stay inside, but that's only part of the equation.
Regardless of the current air quality where you live, dangerous particle pollution can easily accumulate indoors. That's why it's so critical to keep an eye on the actual air you breathe. An air quality monitor will help alert you to unhealthy levels of fine particulates (PM2.5), ozone, or CO2 levels inside.
You should always stay on top of your indoor air quality, but pay extra attention during wildfire events. Use the air monitor wherever you're spending your time, and especially where you sleep. If you notice a decline in air quality, you can take steps to improve it.
Get an air purifier
A high efficiency particulate air filter helps to keep your indoor environment clean. You can use a HEPA air purifier to remove certain particulates from your indoor space. HEPA air purification with HEPA filters are effective in removing PM2.5 and other airborne particles.
Air purification is an important part of healthy indoor air, but not everyone can afford to purchase a commercial unit. Fortunately, you can make a SAFE box or simple air purifier yourself. This affordable, highly-efficient substitute takes fewer than 10 minutes to assemble.
Get high-quality masks
Whether indoors or out, you may not always be able to rely on an air purifier. We recommend using high-filtration masks whenever you're concerned about the air you're breathing. Good masks can help reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke and other dangerous airborne contaminants.
Make sure to use something that seals to the face and provides good filtration efficiency. NIOSH-approved N95 masks are one of the best options. KN95 and KF94 masks or US-made high-filtration masks with ear loops are also effective.