With warmer, drier temperatures and an expected increase in wildfires, the Bay Area is bound to have unhealthy air quality this summer.
So what are the best ways to prepare and protect yourself?
Juan Romero, spokesperson for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the first thing to do is check the air quality levels, especially if there is a forest fire in the area.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Romero said.
Even though the air looks clear, there may be enough smog or particles in the air that makes breathing unhealthy.
The Air District has over 30 air monitoring sites throughout the Bay Area that provide more targeted air quality readings that can be found at baaqmd.gov.
Other unofficial sources, such as Purple air, can provide important real-time air quality information, but low-cost sensor readings are often several times higher than those from air monitors certified by the State Environmental Protection Agency -United, according to Romero.
He said it is best to use the Air District readings because their monitors “meet the stringent EPA requirements for regional air quality monitoring and are located, designed and operated to ensure that the air quality data is consistent and accurate “.
Healthy air quality is between 0 and 50, which the Bay Area typically experiences on a daily basis.
But if there is enough smog or particles and the range exceeds 50, Romero advises residents to stay indoors and take their pets with them.
“Masks are not a substitute for staying indoors,” Romero said.
He said only a gas mask can really prevent particles from seeping through the mask. Even N95 masks, which have been recommended by many health officials to protect against COVID-19, are not effective enough at blocking extremely small pollutants.
Still, Romero said, if someone has to go out, it’s better to wear an N95 mask than nothing at all.
To ensure that indoor air quality remains healthy, Romero suggested that residents also purchase ozone-free air purifiers.
The Air District also recommends that residents replace or renovate old leaky windows and doors and use caulk to seal openings.
Another way to ensure that unhealthy air is kept outside is to switch to a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that provides both heating and air conditioning and has the tilting mechanism for recirculate so that new air does not enter.
Residents who do not wish to upgrade their HVAC system can also purchase a MERV 13 or higher filter for the HVAC system.
If neither of these options is plausible, the Air District recommends residents go to public spaces that have cleaner filtered air such as indoor malls, cooling centers, community centers, and local government buildings. , for example.
Romero said this is especially important for children, the elderly, pregnant people, and people with asthma or other respiratory problems, as poor air quality can have serious health consequences.
He said the smog, which mainly comes from cars and other mobile sources like airplanes, could at least irritate the respiratory system, eyes, nose and throat and cause coughs and headaches.
At worst, unhealthy smog levels could also reduce lung function or even damage the lining of the lungs.
“It’s like a sunburn on the lungs!” Romero wrote in a recent Q&A session with Local News Matters.
The particles, which are often produced from the burning of wood, could cause “irritation to the lungs, worsen the severity of chronic lung disease, cause changes in blood chemistry that can lead to clots that can lead to heart attacks, among others. others, ”Romero said.
“Both (smog and particulates) can harm development, worsen existing respiratory problems and cause premature death,” he continued.
Romero also advised residents to follow Spare the Air protocols, especially since most pollutants are man-made and preventable.
When a Spare the Air day is emitted due to excessive levels of fine particulate matter, it is illegal to burn wood, logs, pellets, or other solid fuels in fireplaces, wood stoves, outdoor fireplaces and other wood-burning appliances, depending on the air district. These types of alerts are generally issued in winter or in the event of a forest fire.
Daily behaviors that residents could adopt to reduce pollution are to use public transport, carpooling or cycling. This is especially important on Spare the Air days emitted for smog, as warm temperatures trap smog emitted by cars closer to the ground.
Bay Area residents can sign up for air quality alerts by texting “START” to 81757 for text alerts or by visiting sparetheair.org/alertes to subscribe to alerts by phone or email.
You can find more tips on how to stay safe during an unhealthy air quality event at baaqmd.gov.