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Air-Quality Warning: How and Why to Protect Your Home's Air, and Your Health, From the California Wildfires


Deadly wildfires stretching from Santa Barbara to Anaheim are raging through Southern California and have already burned through an estimated 42,000 acres and burnt down several hundred homes. NASA satellites have even captured images of the massive plumes of smoke circulating over this area (see photo at right).

These recent fires have been reported to be the largest California wildfire devastation to date, which is why this year's wildfires could affect your family's health more than any prior year.

Images from NASA's Aqua satellite

Images from NASA's Aqua satellite show smoke from wildfires in the Los Angeles metropolitan area on November 16, 2008. Photo Credit: NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team.

Health officials from The South Coast Air Quality Management District have issued air-quality warnings and advised residents to avoid areas where they can see or smell smoke. Areas where air quality was expected to be unhealthy included:

  • Orange County

  • Many parts of Los Angeles County, including downtown Los Angeles

  • The San Fernando Valley

  • The South Bay, including Long Beach

  • The Corona/Norco area

  • The Chino Hills area

  • Parts of the San Gabriel Mountains near the Sayre Fire

  • The Northwest Los Angeles County coastal area

Serious Health Risks From Smoke-Polluted Air

Experts are predicting a rise in hospital admissions in the coming weeks due to wildfire-related illnesses. The estimates are based on data collected before, during and after the 2003 Southern California wildfires, which showed a significant increase in hospital admissions due to the contaminated air.

Dr. Ralph Delfino, an environmental epidemiologist, analyzed more than 40,000 hospital admissions during that time and found heavy smoke conditions were linked to a:

  • 34% increase in asthma admissions

  • 67% increase in acute bronchitis admissions

  • 48% increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease admissions

  • 45% increase in pneumonia admissions

According to Delfino:

"It's important to learn from this study that large-scale wildfires can have wide-ranging effects on human health. It will be vital to educate those at risk with existing respiratory conditions to react quickly at the earliest signs of symptoms with preventive interventions."

Children and the elderly are particularly at risk from smoke-contaminated air, as are people with chronic illnesses.

What Makes Smoke-Filled Air Such a Health Hazard?


Smoke from wildfires contains tiny particles that can overwhelm your lungs and mucus membranes, leading to infections like sinusitis and bronchitis.

The majority of wildfire smoke is made up of water vapor, but it also contains gases and small particles including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, and air toxics, according to the San Diego Air Pollution Control District (SDAPCD).

Part of what makes wildfire pollution so dangerous is that the tiny particles in the smoke -- they're smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, which means several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of a sentence -- reach the deepest recesses of your lungs and enter your bloodstream where they accelerate hardening of the arteries, negatively affecting heart function.

The tiny particles can actually overwhelm your lungs and mucus membranes, according to the American Lung Association of California, which results in mucus and soot build-up. This, in turn, increases your risk of infections like sinusitis and bronchitis.

If you have had a heart attack, being exposed to tiny particles will also increase your risk of having a second one.

What to Do When You're Exposed to Poor Air Quality: From Southern California to Any Region Throughout the U.S. With Poor Air Quality

This information is most urgent for those who live in areas directly impacted by the wildfires, but anyone can take note of these tips to deal with air pollution in their community.

Air pollution is such a serious issue that about 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health. Further, it's estimated that those living in the most polluted cities have their life spans shortened by one to two years, according to research by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.

What can you do to stay safe?

Los Angeles health officials recommend the following for people in the vicinity of wildfires:

  • Stay indoors and avoid unnecessary outdoor activity.

  • Do not use fireplaces, candles or vacuums (vacuuming will stir up particles that are in your home).

  • When indoors, keep windows and doors closed. Air conditioners can remove particles from the air, but residents are warned not to use air conditioners that draw in air only from the outside and do not have a recirculating option.

  • Don't smoke.

Next, whether you live in an area with wildfires or not, you should consider very seriously getting a high-quality air purifier for your home.

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Indoor air can be two to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so air purifiers are becoming more and more of a necessity.

The challenge with most air purifiers, however, is that the air must be drawn to the unit, either through natural airflow or through the use of a fan. This method results in uneven treatment and can leave pockets of polluted air.

Unlike most air purifiers, the PIONAIR Air Treatment System, which highly recommends, doesn't wait for pollutants to contact a filter or plate. Instead, the PIONAIR generates air-purifying technology that migrates through the area and neutralizers organic odors, microbes and molds at their source.

As a result, the PIONAIR produces fresh, clean air throughout your home or office uniformly, by addressing the pollutant source, without the use of fans, filters or plates.

How does it work?

PIONAIR uses photocatalysis, which is designed to oxidize organic odors, germs, and fungi. The PIONAIR technology creates ultraviolet light rays, safe levels of ozone, and passive negative ions as part of your air treatment. This is not just any old air filter -- it is an air purifier that duplicates Nature's own methods of air cleaning and revitalization.

No Matter Where You Live, Follow These Simple Air Quality Tips

Along with filtering your home's air, whether you live in Southern California or elsewhere, these are the basic tips to help protect yourself and your family from air pollution year-round.

  1. If pollution is particularly heavy in your area (you can check daily air quality levels in your area here), keep your windows and doors closed and run your air conditioner (make sure the filter is clean).

  2. When pollution is heavy, be sure to drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic) to keep your respiratory tract moist.

  3. Avoid high levels of smog and pollution. These are typically highest during the midday and afternoon. If you're in a high-risk group, don't go outside when ozone levels are high.

  4. Keep dirt and dust out of your home. A few high-quality mats, like the Waterhog Grand Premier Mats, placed strategically around your home (such as in doorways and other highly trafficked areas), will go a long way toward reducing the amount of dirt and dust in your home in the first place. Once inside, that dirt gets circulated into the air and you breathe it in.

    This is also precisely why cleaning your home properly to remove excess dust and dirt is so important to your air quality. However, if you use ordinary rags or mops, you will simply push dirt from one area to another -- NOT pick it up and eliminate it like you intended. That's why we recommend PerfectClean mops, cloths and dusters to give your home a microscopic level of clean. Every item is built with PerfectClean's revolutionary ultramicrofiber construction that enables them to reach deep into microscopic crevices (NO other cleaning tool available even comes close!) and remove everything in their path: all forms of dirt, dust, hair, dander, and the biological contaminants too small to see with the naked eye.

  5. Exercise when the air is cleaner. When you exercise (or work strenuously), you draw air more deeply into your lungs, and therefore risk more damage from air pollution. To protect yourself and get the numerous health benefits of exercise, avoid exercising near congested streets and during rush-hour traffic, and definitely if there's a wildfire burning in your area.

Recommended Reading

Surprising Facts About Air Pollution and How to Protect Yourself

Are You Getting Enough Fresh Air? Important Insights You Need to Know


Occupational and Environmental Medicine November 18, 2008

Los Angeles Times November 18, 2008

Science Daily November 18, 2008

Los Angeles Times November 16, 2008

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