According to the USFS, “…Longer fire seasons; bigger fires and more acres burned …have become the norm.” Where there is fire, there is smoke as we have seen in Colorado.
The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles or particulate matter. Smoke can come from a variety of sources including wildfire events, planned burning such as prescribed fires or burning in a fireplace or stove.
Health officials have long known there is an association with upper respiratory ED visits and fine particulate matter, or more specifically smoke, exposure. A November 2016 study noted, “… smoke exposure to be associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular ED visits for all adults, particularly for those over aged 65 years.” . The risk of heavy smoke can very quickly create a vulnerability in the health care system if not anticipated.
Health Impacts of Smoke
The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.
Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:
- Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
- Nonfatal heart attacks
- Irregular heartbeat
- Aggravated asthma
- Decreased lung function
- Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
People with heart or lung diseases, children, older adults and pregnant women are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.
ASSESSING AIR QUALITY RISK (TOOLS):
The U.S. Air Quality Index is EPA’s index for reporting air quality. It can be used for assessing air quality related to a variety of pollutants; including ozone, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (PM).
How does the AQI work?
Think of the AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 – 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 or below represents good air quality, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.
For each pollutant, an AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to a measured ambient air concentration that equals the level of the short-term national ambient air quality standard for protection of public health. AQI values at or below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory. When AQI values are above 100, air quality is unhealthy; at first for certain sensitive groups of people, then for everyone as AQI values get higher.