Wildfire Smoke Safety Tips

North America is facing increasingly catastrophic wildfire seasons and air quality impacts have been seen across the country, including Massachusetts.

Wildfire smoke – a complex mixture of air pollutants – is unhealthy to breathe and can be especially dangerous for vulnerable populations.

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Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other materials. It can cause irritation to the respiratory system, putting people vulnerable to smoke — including children, pregnant people, older adults, those with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease, and individuals who work outdoors — at risk from getting sick.

Who is at Risk?

There are many different groups of people who are at risk from wildfire smoke. Although it can be dangerous to everyone, the following groups are at an elevated risk:

  • People who have lung diseases like COPD or asthma, or heart disease, are at higher risk from wildfire smoke.
  • Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke. This may be due to their increased risk of heart and lung diseases.
  • Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke. Children’s airways are still developing, and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Also, children often spend more time outdoors engaged in activity and play.
  • Pregnant people may be more affected by smoke because of physical changes during pregnancy, like increased breathing rates. Pregnant people exposed to smoke may also be at increased risk for problems such as preterm birth and babies born with low birth weight.

Steps You Can Take to Prepare and Prevent Risk

  • Check current air quality information and find forecasts at MassAir Online to make informed decisions about daily activities.
  • If air quality is compromised outside, seek cleaner air spaces inside.
  • Use air conditioners, heat pumps, fans and window shades to keep air space comfortably cool on hot days. Try not to use equipment that circulates air in from the outside.
  • Use air filters or air cleaners to reduce smoke levels indoors. If you have a forced hot air heating/cooling system, consider using high-efficiency (HEPA) filters. You can build an inexpensive air cleaner using this USEPA guide.
  • Limit outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce smoke exposure.
  • Limit the amount of time children spend outside and their activity levels when wildfire smoke is in the area.
  • Use an N95 respirator for protection from wildfire smoke.
  • Ask healthcare providers to recommend protections against wildfire smoke. Stock up on medicine and essential supplies to minimize outdoor shopping trips. Use home delivery if possible.
Date published: September 5, 2023
Last updated: September 5, 2023

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