AIR QUALITY HEALTH ADVISORY – SMOKE AND OZONE
Health Advisory for Nevada, Plumas and Sierra CountiesAugust 16 - 21, 2013
The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District is issuing an air quality health advisory for people in Plumas, Sierra and Nevada County due to smoke from the American Fire in Placer County. The 7,000+ acre forest fire is burning in steep terrain northeast of Foresthill, roughly 12 miles south of Nevada County.
Smoke is primarily fine particulate matter, but also includes volatile compounds and nitrogen oxides, which form ozone through chemical reactions that are fueled by sunlight and warm temperatures. Therefore, ozone levels may also be elevated at times.
Smoke concentrations are expected to intermittently be in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range throughout the region, occasionally reaching the Unhealthy range, and are expected to vary during the course of each day depending on wind speed, wind direction and other smoke dispersion factors. Since Monday, the pattern that has been observed is that smoke settles downslope in the evening, toward western Nevada County, Auburn and the central valley. Then, during the daytime hours southerly winds shift the main smoke plume northward and residual smoke spreads across the northern Sierras. This pattern is likely to continue at least through Friday, August 16. However, decreased winds toward the weekend will likely result in slower daytime smoke dispersion, hopefully balanced somewhat by reduced fire activity.
If you smell smoke, or see smoke around you, consider restricting your outside activities. Until the potential for poor air quality subsides, individuals should consider taking the following actions:
- Healthy people should delay strenuous exercise, particularly when they can smell smoke.
- Children and elderly people should consider avoiding outdoor activities and prolonged exertion.
- People with respiratory illnesses should remain indoors when smoke can be seen or smelled outside.
- Asthmatics should follow their asthma management plan.
- Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or severe fatigue. This is important for not only people with chronic lung or heart disease, but also for individuals who have not been previously diagnosed with such illnesses. Smoke can “unmask” or produce symptoms of such diseases.
- Keep airways moist by drinking lots of water. Breathing through a warm, wet washcloth can also help relieve dryness.
In general, when smoke concentrations are elevated it is advisable to stay indoors with windows and doors closed and set air-conditioners on “re-circulate.” Do not run swamp coolers or whole house fans. When feasible, pets should be brought indoors when outdoor air quality is poor. Disposable particulate respirators found at hardware stores can be effective at reducing exposure to smoke particles as long as they seal closely to the wearer’s face. Look for respirators that have two straps and have the words “NIOSH” and either “P100” or “N95” printed on the filter material. Warning: particulate respirators will not provide complete protection in very smoky conditions and may even interfere with proper breathing. It should also be noted that there is some controversy surrounding the use of particulate respirators because of the many variables that may hinder their proper use.
Studies have linked fine particulate matter (smoke) with work and school absences, respiratory related hospital admissions and health problems, including burning eyes, aggravated asthma, acute respiratory symptoms (including severe chest pain, gasping, and aggravated coughing), chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, and premature death. Increased ozone exacerbates these health effects.