Dangerous Air Quality in California

Several years ago my mom sent me four giant boxes of N95 respirator masks. This was during the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009. I never wore them (but don’t tell her). Frankly, I thought I would look silly and believed any benefit was minor. Finally, after sitting in the far corner of a cabinet for years, there is a better use for them. Health officials are advising N95 respirator masks be worn in areas affected by the horrific fire outbreak this week.

Hospitals in Southern California have reported an uptick in patients with breathing problems, and are advising that people limit time spent outside, keep windows closed, and use air conditioners inside.

Santa Rosa, where devastating fires broke out in October, had the same air quality issues and recommendations:

The blazes create smoke waves — pulses of pollution containing everything from charred plastic residue to soot to other small particles that lodge deep in the lungs. They can trigger short-term ailments, such as coughing; worsen chronic diseases, such as asthma; and lead to long-term damage, including cancer.

The effect of the fires in Northern California’s wine country, which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 43 people, went well beyond the burn zone. The smoke choked the San Francisco Bay Area, home to 7 million people in nine counties, for days…

Even for healthy people, it can make breathing a miserable, chest-heaving experience. For the elderly, the young and the frail, the pollution can be disabling or deadly.

Health officials have advised that people in fire areas take precaution, even when smoke and ash can’t be seen or smelled.