AIR QUALITY HEALTH ADVISORY – SMOKE AND OZONE
Counties of Nevada, Plumas and Sierra
August 28 - September 3, 2013
The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, in cooperation with the Nevada and Sierra County Public Health Officer, is issuing an air quality health advisory for people in Plumas, Sierra and Nevada County due to smoke from the Rim Fire near Yosemite and the American Fire in Placer County. While the American Fire is approaching containment, it can still produce heavy smoke at times. The Rim Fire is nearly 100 miles from Nevada County, but it is among the largest fires in California history and has been producing smoke blanketing tens of thousands of square miles.
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, especially in the afternoons and evenings.
Smoke concentrations are expected to intermittently be in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range throughout the region, occasionally reaching the Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy range in some locations, and are expected to vary greatly during the course of each day depending on wind speed, wind direction, fire behavior and other factors. Several popular outdoor recreation areas, including the Grouse Ridge/Bowman Lake area, the Sierra Buttes and the Truckee area, are likely to be very smoky at times over the Labor Day weekend.
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. That includes athletes on school teams that engage in highly aerobic workouts. Young athletes are considered sensitive receptors and any perceived benefits from a smoky workout could be outweighed by the negative impacts of the smoke inhaled during that workout.
- Children and elderly people should also 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. In addition to the acute health effects of smoke, people may experience some cumulative effects, such as a dry cough and chest discomfort.
A good internet site for current fire information is www.yubanet.com. Visit the air district’s web site for additional useful links and information: www.myairdistrict.com.