Tips to help you stay safe and healthy when air quality suffers

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The setting sun looks west from the summit of Mt Diablo in Contra Costa County, California on June 24, 2021. Photo: Ray Saint Germain / Bay City News.

With hotter, drier temperatures and an expected increase in forest fires, the Bay Area is sure to have unhealthy air quality this summer.

So what’s the best way to prepare and protect yourself?

Juan Romero, spokesman for the Bay Area’s Air Quality Management District, said the first thing to do is check the air quality, especially if there is wildfire in the area.

“Looks can be deceiving,” said Romero.

Even if the air appears clear, there may be enough smog or fine dust in the air to make breathing unhealthy.

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The air district has more than 30 air monitoring stations across the Bay Area that provide more accurate readings of air quality that can be found here.

Other unofficial sources, like Purple Air, can provide vital real-time information on air quality, but inexpensive sensor readings are often many times higher than the Air District’s airborne district-certified air monitors, according to Romero, according to Romero.

He said it was best to use the air district readings as their monitors “meet strict EPA requirements for regional air quality monitoring and are arranged, designed and operated so that air quality data is consistent and accurate”.

Healthy air quality falls in the 0-50 range, which the Bay Area typically experiences on a daily basis.

But if there is enough smog or fine dust and the range is over 50, Romero advises residents to stay indoors – and take their pets with them.

“Masks are no substitute for staying inside,” said Romero.

He said only a gas mask could really prevent particulate matter from seeping through the mask. Even the N95 masks, recommended by many health authorities for protection against COVID-19, are not effective enough at blocking extremely small pollutants.

Even so, Romero said, it’s better to wear an N95 mask than nothing at all if someone has to go outside.

To ensure indoor air quality remains healthy, Romero suggested residents also buy air purifiers that do not produce ozone.

The air district also recommends that residents replace or renovate old leaky windows and doors and seal the openings with sealant.

Another way to ensure that unhealthy air stays out is to upgrade to an HVAC system that has both heating and cooling and has the mechanism to switch to recirculation to keep new air out.

Residents who do not want to upgrade their HVAC system can also purchase a MERV 13 or higher filter for the HVAC system.

If none of these options are plausible, the Air District recommends residents go to public spaces with cleaner, filtered air, such as shopping malls, refrigeration centers, community centers, and local government buildings.

Romero said this is especially important for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, as poor air quality can have serious health effects.

Smog, mainly from cars and other mobile sources such as airplanes, could at least irritate the airways, eyes, nose and throat and cause coughs and headaches.

In the worst case, unhealthy smog levels can also impair lung function or even damage the lining of the lungs.

Particulate matter, which is often the result of burning wood, could “cause lung irritation that make chronic lung disease worse, cause changes in blood chemistry that can lead, among other things, to blood clots, which among other things lead to heart attacks,” said Romero.

“Both (smog and particulate matter) can cause things like developmental damage, exacerbate existing respiratory diseases and lead to premature death,” he continued.

Romero also advised residents to follow Spare the Air’s protocols, especially since most of the pollutants are man-made and preventable.

If a spare-the-air day is spent for excessive particulate matter pollution, it is illegal to burn wood, logs, pellets, or other solid fuels in fireplaces, wood stoves, outdoor fireplaces, and other wood-burning appliances. after the air district. These types of warnings are usually issued in winter or when there is a wildfire.

Everyday behaviors that local residents could do to reduce pollution include using public transport, carpooling or cycling. This is especially important on spare-the-air days spent on smog, as the hot temperatures keep the smog from cars closer to the ground.

Bay Area residents can sign up for air quality alerts by sending the word “START” to 817-57 for text alerts, or visit www.sparethair.org/alerts for phone or email alerts to register.

More tips on how to stay safe during an event with unhealthy air quality can be found here.

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