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Posted on: September 18, 2020

WILDFIRE SMOKE AND AIR QUALITY IMPACTS IN MONO COUNTY AND THE TOWN OF MAMMOTH LAKES

California wildfires, and the Creek Fire in particular, have brought smoke and significant air quality impacts to all areas of Mono County over the past several weeks, and especially over the past few days. It is likely that we may see additional smoke impacts in the coming weeks.

Keeping track of wildfire smoke conditions 

The intensity and concentration of smoke can change rapidly with wind and weather conditions. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) continually monitors air quality in numerous locations in Mono and Inyo and County and posts current air quality data on their website.

Air quality measurements include two categories of particle size. The smallest particles, less than 2.5 micrometers, are reported as PM2.5, which is considered the best measurement of wildfire smoke concentration. The concentration of particles less than 10 micrometers (PM10) is also a valid indicator of wildfire smoke pollution. Other websites, such as the federal government’s AirNow provide current air quality information in terms of the Air Quality Index (AQI), a nationally standardized system for pollution reporting.

It can be challenging to predict the changes in smoke conditions, but the U.S. Forest Service has a helpful website that provides a 72-hour forecast of wildfire smoke conditions.

Health effects

Some people are more sensitive to smoke impacts than others. When there is smoke pollution, small particles are inhaled deep into the lungs where they may cause inflammation. Particle pollution also often causes local irritation of the eyes and throat. People may experience respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, especially people with asthma, COPD or other lung conditions. Such people may have a significant decrease in lung function and may be more susceptible to pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

This kind of pollution may also increase the chance of heart problems, and people with existing heart disease or risk factors for it are the most likely to be affected. People who have heart disease might experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and/or fatigue.

Children are considered vulnerable because of immature lungs and because they have more lung area for their body size compared to adults. Pregnant women are also considered vulnerable based on the known risks associated with other types of particulate pollution, such as a higher chance of a low birthweight baby.

Recommendations for Minimizing Smoke Exposure

  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed; run air-conditioner on “recirculate” setting, and minimize the use of swamp coolers.
  • When driving, make sure the windows are rolled up and the air conditioner is on “recirculate.”
  • Minimize or abstain from outdoor activities, especially exercise, during smoky conditions.
  • People who must spend time outdoors should drink plenty of fluids.
  • Pet owners should consider bringing their pets indoors out of the unhealthy air conditions, if possible. This is especially important for older pets.
  • Smoke-sensitive people who are unable to sufficiently reduce their smoke exposure at home may want to consider travel to unaffected areas, if feasible.

Face masks

Cloth masks and surgical masks do not reduce our exposure to PM2.5 or PM10 particulate pollution. N95 or N100 masks, technically called respirators, can greatly reduce inhalation of smoke particles if they fit properly, which means tightly. Properly fitting N95s may not be practical for use over many hours or days and may also be hard for vulnerable people, such as elderly and people with lung disease, to tolerate. If you choose to try one, the state health department website has information about N95 masks.

Mono County Public Health encourages all residents to monitor current air quality conditions and modify your activities accordingly and also reminds the public that all COVID-19 Health Orders are still in effect for the safety of our communities.

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