Wildfire smoke reaches the East Coast: Here’s how to protect yourself from the effects

The CDC recommends avoiding exposure to smoke by staying indoors in areas in California, Oregon, and Washington 

Danielle Zoellner
Tuesday 15 September 2020 23:27 BST
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Wildfire smoke generated from multiple blazes has spread from the West Coast all the way to areas like Washington DC and New York City, causing skies to appear hazier than normal.

The National Weather Service (NWS) had several of its offices report hazier skies in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Washington DC, and several New England states on Monday morning.

“Notice the sky is looking a little hazy? This is smoke lofted well aloft in the atmosphere emanating from the Western US wildfires,” NWS Boston wrote in a tweet.

The NWS Baltimore-Washington office explained in a tweet that the smoke from the wildfires in the west was being “carried by the jet stream across the Mid-Atlantic, causing a ‘hazy’ sky”. The concentration is between 15,000 to 25,000 feet in the sky, which explains why residents on the East Coast were not smelling smoke.

The smoke was not expected to impact air quality in any of the eastern states, but the skies could remain hazy until mid-week, according to NWS Chicago.

In comparison, the air quality in California, Oregon, and parts of Washington state remain at dangerous levels due to the wildfires, causing problems for the states’ residents. 

Here are some tips to protect yourself.

Seal your home from smoke

Priority number one should be keeping doors and windows shut if you’re living in an area where the air quality is at dangerous levels. If you have leaks, use weather sealing or masking tape along window gaps. A damp towel can also be placed at the base of a door to prevent smoke from seeping in.

The safest place within your home is where there are few doors, windows, and ventilation ducts connected to the outside. Remain in that room for the majority of the day if possible.

Use an air purifier

Air purifiers, which can be purchased online through most retailers, help filter the air within your home. Consider purchasing an air purifier to help improve your indoor air quality. Those properly fitted with HEPA filters can reduce particle concentrations by as much as 85 per cent, according to the EPA.

If an air purifier is not available for purchase then run your air conditioner in recirculation mode so it only circulates the air within your home instead of pulling from outdoors. Also, if using your air conditioner’s fan, make sure it is set to “on” instead of “auto”.

Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution

Vacuuming, frying food, using a gas stove, and smoking are all activities that can increase your indoor air pollution. Experts recommend limiting these activities as much as possible to keep the air within your home free of pollutants.

Clean your air filter

The filters within your air ducts should typically be switched out two to three times per year. But wildfire smoke can increase how often these filters should be cleaned. Check your filters daily to make sure they are still properly trapping debris from passing into your home.

Besides keeping filters clean, it is also important for you to have the right size filter to make sure it traps as many particles as possible. Health experts recommend using HEPA filters, as they use a fan to force air through fine mesh that will trap particles in indoor heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems.

Avoid outdoor activities

Exercising outdoors, mowing the lawn, or performing other outside activities will increase your exposure to unsafe conditions. The CDC and other health experts recommend limiting your exposure outdoors and avoiding strenuous activities like working out.

If you go outside, an N95 mask is one of the best to filter out particles, though these masks are not easily available due to the coronavirus pandemic. Masks made from multiple types of fabrics, such as cotton and silk woven together, can be another alternative for a face covering if N95s are not available.

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