Protecting Your Air Quality During Fires and High Pollution

  • By Meredith Schneider
  • May 26
Protecting Your Air Quality During Fires and High Pollution
  • Wildfires are ravaging North America much earlier than our usual “wildfire season” normally would.
  • Not only that, but they’re stretching into territory that isn’t used to this type of natural disaster.
  • So, what does wildfire smoke do to our air, and how can we lower its negative impact?

As many have witnessed first-hand, wildfire air pollution can travel thousands of miles and deliver a negative impact to people nowhere near the wildfire. A short time ago, New York City’s skyline was covered in a haze that was almost post-apocalyptic. During that time, the air quality index (AQI) in Manhattan reached 157, well above an acceptable AQI of 100. When AQI levels are above 100, public health advisories are recommended for sensitive groups of people, and it is largely unsafe to be outside.

The culprit? The wildfires currently ravaging the Pacific Northwest. That’s right. Wildfires on the opposite side of the country absolutely demolished the air quality in New York City, thousands of miles away. And though levels of 200+ may cause more serious health effects, this was happening in a city that was not battling wildfires. This is especially alarming when you realize the long-term negative effects of wildfire pollution.

Wildfire air pollution carries damaging particles.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Wildfires increase air pollution in surrounding areas and can affect regional air quality. The effects of smoke from wildfires can range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death.” Particles in the air aggravate your respiratory tract, and can cause massive amounts of damage depending on existing health factors. Deterioration of eye health is of major concern in areas with low air quality, so wearing protective eyewear – glasses, sunglasses, goggles, etc. – while outdoors is always a good idea.

Outdoor smoke contains harmful gases and chemicals.

Aside from the worry of micro particles destroying your digestive tract or respiratory system, there is an impending danger of chemical release when it comes to wildfires. Carbon monoxide and other harmful gases are often found in outdoor smoke. According to the New York State Department of Health: “Smoke can contain many different chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins.” These chemicals are highly toxic to the human body, and can cause long-term health deficiencies.

That same air pollution contains free radicals.

As if we haven’t harped on the negative impacts of free radicals – or unstable atoms – enough, there’s no denying that wildfire smoke and pollution contains those annoying compounds that are responsible for oxidative stress. This stress is often linked to long-term illness and premature aging of healthy cells. Landscape fires produce an alarming amount of pyrogenic carbon (charcoal) every year, and that amount is increasing with global warming. Charcoal is responsible for a host of environmentally persistent free radicals, and studies are finding that the negative impact from each incident is sustained for years.

While Long Beach, California has long been considered the most polluted area in the United States by ozone (with Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno-Madera-Hanford coming in as runners up), particle pollution has quickly led us to re-examine that fact. Short-term particle pollution from increased wildfire damage has astonishingly brought Fairbanks, Alaska – usually considered one of the most beautiful North American destinations – to the top of the charts. In fact, the west coast and surrounding areas make up the first 15 slots in the most polluted areas by short-term particle pollution.

Currently, Spokane, Washington is experiencing 208 AQI, 15 times above the World Health Organization’s exposure recommendation. Areas of Montana and across the northern stretch of the United States are categorized as 183 and rising. Air quality levels this poor not only keep us from having healthy outdoor experiences and connecting with nature, but tiny particles and residue eventually make their way into our homes, and can wreak havoc on our personal, everyday environments. And none of us are safe. In 2016 – before the wildfire season effectively expanded – 91% of the population of the world was residing in areas with unacceptable air quality.

While we value the benefits of breathwork to help cleanse your body of free radicals and support your immune system, it can feel almost impossible when the air you’re breathing in is full of harmful particles. The best way to help guard your home and loved ones from the damaging effects of increasing wildfire damage is to invest in air purifiers for your home and work environments. Not only do they make the air smell better, but they can help offset the damage caused by environmental pollution, cigarettes, allergens, and more. Air purifiers can help rejuvenate your skin as well, as they fight off free radicals and other air pollutants that directly cause oxidative stress. You can literally breathe easier with the presence of an air purifier – or several, depending on the size of your space – in your home. Our top three trusted options for high-quality cleansing include:

Our Top Choice:  Medify Professional Air Purifiers

Medify offers professional quality air purification with a 3-stage Ultra-HEPA filter system that captures airborne particles as small as 0.003 microns in size and the vast majority of VOCs; cleaning the air of viruses, bacteria, mold, smoke, pollen and dust mites.  The Medify-112 is great for larger spaces, cleaning the air in a 2500 sq ft. room two times per hour.  For those on a budget, we recommend the Medify-50, that cleans a 1100 sq. ft. room 2 times in an hour.  Either option offers quiet powerful air purification.  Other models available for larger or smaller spaces!

Two other excellent options include:

Enviroklenz Air Purifiers

Enviroklenz has clean, high-functioning air purifier options that we are big fans of for all-around protection. Promising to rid the air of chemical odors, allergens, and malodors, you can smell the difference in the air within minutes of turning it on. It takes hospital-grade technology and applies it to a compacted system, with certified HEPA filtration guaranteeing the most finite clean. It’s also one of the most environmentally friendly systems overall, as the cartridge only needs to be replaced about twice a year.  Available 2 models.

Austin Air Systems Allergy Machine

Another brand we trust – due to their specialized technology and ongoing research – is Austin Air Systems. Many air purifiers are top notch at ridding the air of irritants that cause seasonal allergies. Those who struggle with allergies and asthma might benefit specifically from looking into the Allergy Machine from Austin Air Systems. Designed to prioritize the filtering of allergens, it increases air flow and has been linked to reduced hospital visits in asthmatic children.

Austin Air Systems The Bedroom Machine

Another great option from Austin Air Systems is The Bedroom Machine. This particular model filters out large and medium particles, and utilizes military grade products to provide high quality air purification. It was designed with optimized sleep in mind, and has been linked to an impressive reduction in nicotine and nitrogen dioxide in homes.

Additional ways to help combat the effects of the wildfires are few and far between. However, there are some measures you can take to help protect the health of your household.

Try hydrogenated water on for size.

Findings from several recent studies suggest that hydrogenated water can boost your body’s antioxidant capacity. With the presence of more antioxidants in your system, the body can properly fight off inflammation and disease. This means you can look forward to support in your body’s ability to clear skin irritations. The antioxidants can not only help boost your skin’s clarity and glow, but can help improve the health of your hair. By helping to reduce the detrimental effects of free radicals, these antioxidants rid the body of oxidative stressors and are believed to help slow down the aging process.

Quicksilver H2 Elite offers a simple tablet that can be added to water, convenient for travel and keeping around the home for added health benefits. HFactor has eco-friendly Hydro-Pack water pouches that are perfect as an on-the-go option. They are currently available in the delicious flavors of blood orange, honeydew, tart cherry, and watermelon in addition to your run-of-the-mill flavorless variety. You can save 15% on your HFactor water purchase with promo code SWELL. 

Keep your windows closed.

Warm weather months can make it almost impossible to leave your windows closed. Fresh air, sunshine, birds chirping. There is nothing quite like the ambiance the outdoors can bring inside. However, if your area is experiencing higher AQI than normal, you will want to close those windows to reduce exposure. AQI levels can fluctuate throughout the day, so monitoring those can really help improve your indoor air quality.

Wear a mask when leaving your home.

Municipalities nationwide are beginning to crack down on mask mandates again as a result of rising cases of COVID-19. While we always recommend practicing safety measures for your health and the well-being of those around you, the wildfires actually provide more of a reason to invest in approved face coverings. This is especially true if you are heading outside for a workout, as exercise increases lung function, which could cause you to breathe in even more harmful compounds.

Make monitoring your surrounding air quality part of managing your health. Weather apps are now including convenient AQI reports to allow you to determine how you will go out into the world each day. The Fire and Smoke Map from AirNow is also very handy for planning any outdoor ventures. Just remember that just because fires aren’t happening in your immediate area, that doesn’t mean you won’t be impacted by them.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.