CHICAGO, IL | December 7, 2017
Massive wildfires continue to burn throughout Southern California today, and weather conditions may worsen the situation. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate, while numerous schools and other public entities have closed due to persistent danger. Smoke from these fires has created unhealthy air quality conditions throughout much of the region. The American Lung Association warns that such smoke poses lethal health hazards to people living and working in surrounding areas.
Residents with respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and those with chronic heart disease should take extra precautions during this time and call their physician immediately if problems develop. In addition, for those returning to their homes to clean up and salvage belongings, the Lung Association points out that the risk is not over: exposure to ash from building fires during cleanup can be dangerous.
Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause serious health problems ranging from pneumonia and asthma attacks to cardiovascular harm. Most vulnerable to smoke exposure are children and teens, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with existing respiratory problems or heart disease.
"The sheer scope of the Southern California wildfires has created conditions that put even healthy individuals without lung disease at risk," said American Lung Association Volunteer Spokesperson Afif El-Hasan, M.D. "During times of intense smoke, people face an increased risk of adverse health effects ranging from coughing and wheezing to more serious illness, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, worsening of asthma, and premature death. This is especially concerning for older adults and outdoor workers. Parents should give particular care to children as they are most susceptible to smoke because their lungs are still developing."
Even after the fire is out and families return home, risks from the ash remain. Cleaning up the soot can spread ash from the fires into the air, making it easy to inhale. Ash from burned buildings can contain even more harmful particles than wildfire smoke, including asbestos, arsenic, nickel, lead and other hazardous materials from the structure.
The American Lung Association offers the following tips:
- Stay inside as much as possible, with doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut – with clean air circulating through air conditioners and/or air cleaners. Residents should use the recirculation setting on their home air conditioners to avoid outdoor air contamination. Using whole house fans is not recommended because they can allow unfiltered outside air into the home.
- When driving through smoky areas, car windows and vents should be closed. Air conditioning should be set to recirculate to avoid exposure to outside air.
- Avoid exercising outdoors, particularly if you smell smoke or experience eye or throat irritation.
- If you have lung disease, check in with your physician regarding any changes in medication that may be needed to cope with the smoky conditions. If you experience any symptoms, contact your physician immediately.
- If you're returning to a fire-damaged home, keep children away from the ash and limit your contact with it as well. Wear an N-95 mask, protective clothing, gloves and goggles to reduce your exposure.
More information on how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is available on Lung.org. You can also call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA to speak with respiratory therapists and registered nurses regarding questions about lung health.
For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and wildfires, contact the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 202-715-3469.
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, which has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and is a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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