0710 GMT November 29, 2020
Health officials have issued a stark warning, saying no one should be outside. As many are scrambling to buy air purifiers, some are finding shelves empty at local stores, Inside Edition CBS reported.
The good news is that you can make your own air purifier using a simple box fan available at most hardware stores, the report said.
The wildfires are the worst in 18 years, with vast amounts of thick smoke affecting large areas of North America and even reaching Northern Europe, scientists said Wednesday, CNN reported.
The fires, which began in mid-August in California and Colorado, are “significantly more intense than the 2003-2019 average for the whole country and the affected states,” according to data from Europe’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).
Headaches, hospital visits
As deadly wildfires rage across the US West, residents are struggling with some of the world’s worst air pollution.
The splitting headaches began when smoke from wildfires rolled in around Seattle. Next came a debilitating fatigue.
“I get out of bed to eat and drink water, and go back to bed,” said a 64-year-old retired software engineer, who suffered lung damage in 2017 from a bad case of the flu.
“It’s like there’s not enough oxygen in the air.”
Enormous plumes of ash and smoke have spread from the region, where nearly five million acres were ablaze on Tuesday, compounding the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported.
In California, levels of lung-polluting particulate matter have jumped far beyond the summertime norm, bathing skies in eerie tones of orange and sepia.
Hospitals in hard-hit Oregon report a 10 percent increase in emergency room visits for breathing problems. Doctors are being inundated with calls from worried patients.
“It’s really putting a burden on our asthmatic patients,” said Dr. Paul Williams, an allergy and immunology specialist in Everett, Washington. “They’re calling us more often and they’re requiring additional medications.”
Air pollution, in the case of wildfire measured by the amount of fine particulate matter swirling in the air, is considered a serious health hazard linked to diseases including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease and early death.
Pollution has hit historic levels in five Oregon cities – Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls, the state said Tuesday.
In Washington, the air quality on Tuesday ranged from unhealthy to hazardous at every site monitored by the state.
Residents were stuffing towels in door cracks or sleeping in face masks to cope.
Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, known as PM2.5, is the key measure for harmful air pollution. The particles are smaller than the width of a human hair, small enough to burrow deep into a person’s lungs and even find its way into the bloodstream.
Wildfire smoke mostly carries particulates from burning trees and plants, which are already harmful.
But smoke from devastated communities can also contain toxic chemicals from burned plastic and other man-made materials in cars and buildings such as asbestos, synthetic rubber compounds and heavy metals. These can then pollute not only air but nearby waterways or soils.
In San Francisco, an area usually spared poor air because of its proximity to the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean, levels of PM2.5 pollution have been three times California’s standard limit of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for at least six days.
“I can’t recall a time when we’ve had this amount of smoke for this long a time,” said Sylvia Vanderspek, chief of the Air Quality Planning Branch of the California Air Resources Board.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is also complicating efforts to help people at risk for lung and breathing problems, said Dr. Afif el-Hasan, a pediatrician in Southern California who volunteers with the American Lung Association.
Wildfire pollution can make people more susceptible to COVID-19, he said, and the best masks for filtering smoke are the same N-95 face coverings, desperately needed by doctors and nurses treating COVID patients, making medical professionals hesitant to recommend that patients buy them.
It has also been difficult to help people find respite from the bad air, other than to recommend staying home and indoors.