Increased frequency and intensity of wildfires is likely to become the new normal in the western US. Children are at especially high risk because their lungs are still developing, and therefore more sensitive to the impacts of wildfire smoke. Wildfire smoke contains many toxic compounds that travel hundreds of miles from the source, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5), acrolein, benzene, carbon monoxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Check out this video to learn more about how to protect yourself and your patients during wildfires:
Use these tips from the PEHSU to prepare for wildfires:
• Stay alert to smoke-related public health advisories and monitor the Air Quality Index on the www.AirNow.gov website
• If available for your area, sign up for air quality alerts
• If you have central air, talk to a professional about upgrading to a filter rated “MERV” 13 or higher
• Buy a portable air cleaner sized to the room and don't use an ozone-generating air cleaner. More information here.
• Create a "clean room" in your home. Choose a room with few windows and doors. More information here.
• If your child has chronic health conditions, discuss plans for wildfires with their primary care provider.
• Stock up on food, medicine, masks, and child care supplies before the threat of a wildfire.
• Practice having your child wear small N95 or surgical masks, using what fits your child’s face best.
• Keep children indoors with the doors and windows closed. If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh-air intake closed (recirculate mode), if you can, to keep outdoor smoke from getting indoors. Use your portable air cleaner as well.
• To keep the indoor air as clean as possible:
• Avoid smoking and vaping
• Avoid using gas, propane, or wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, or candles.
• Avoid ozone-generating air cleaners.
• Avoid natural gas or gasoline-powered generators indoors.
• Avoid using unnecessary chemical products.
• Avoid frying or broiling meat
• Avoid vacuuming (unless vacuum has a HEPA filter). All of these lead to poor air quality.
• During a period of improved air quality, open windows to air out the house and clean away dust that has settled indoors.
• Children should not be at a cleanup site or do cleanup work. Fires may deposit large amounts of ash and dust contaminated with harmful chemicals such as asbestos, arsenic, and/or lead.
• Adults should avoid tracking contaminated substances and ash back to areas frequented by children (e.g. homes, cars) on clothing or shoes. Remove shoes at the doorway, wash clothing separately, and change out of clothing prior to interacting with children or returning home.
• If your child has contact with any potentially hazardous substances call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222)
• If your child has any difficulty breathing, is excessively sleepy, declines food and water, or there are other health concerns, reduce their exposure to smoke and seek medical help right away.
• If your child has asthma, allergies, or another chronic health condition they are at higher risk from health effects related to wildfire smoke and ash. Follow your asthma action plan and seek medical advice as needed.
You can also check out these other resources on wildfires and children's health here:
Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit's Wildfire Factsheet
Instructions on how to make a cheap home air filter: https://youtu.be/4qr1Aj6Di7w
EPA website on the health impacts of air pollution
‘This Does Not Look Good for Children’: Fires Pose Risk to Young Lungs
Our Further Reading page