Wildfires generate tons of smoke that often pollutes urban areas, like where I live – Boulder Colorado. There are quite a few fires burning this week and it looks to be a tough fire season already. Exposure to this smoke can cause serious adverse health effects and many people wonder what they should do to reduce exposure.
In 2oo5, we published a paper titled Prescribed burns and wildfires in Colorado: impacts of mitigation measures on indoor air particulate matter summarizing our study that was funded by US EPA Region 8 to measure the indoor and outdoor PM2.5 in homes impacted by fire smoke. In this study we also tested whether keeping your windows closed was effective if you stay indoors and whether using a portable air cleaner would be helpful. We found that staying indoors reduced your exposure by 40% (or less) and that running an air cleaner reduced exposure by around 80% (63-88%).
If you have respiratory disease or sensitivities, I recommend running an Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) certified air cleaner sized specifically for your bedroom and/or living area during smoke events. AHAM has a clean air delivery rate program (CADR) that tests air cleaners for effectiveness against smoke, dust and pollen. (make sure you don’t buy an ozone generator or ionizer). I would also recommend not exercising during smoke episodes, which are worse usually during the later afternoons and evenings and better during the mornings. Finally, you can upgrade the filter in your whole house air system (if you have one) to a more efficient filter. We have found in our studies that this works well as a whole house air cleaner and reduced the particle levels in your home.