By Kathy Hubbard
The word is puteo. It’s Latin for to stink, be redolent, or smell bad. We say P.U., but according to EnglishStackExchange.com it should be spelled piu. All this to tell you that on Friday morning that’s what I said when I smelled smoke in the air obviously coming from a forest fire near here. Piu! It stinks.
It not only stank, I could barely see across the river. I went online to AirNow.gov (hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency) to find out what the air quality index was. The answer was 77. Or moderate. There was a slight breeze, so I hoped it would clear out so I could take my walk later in the day.
“While not everyone has the same sensitivity to wildfire smoke, it’s still a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it,” AirNow says. “And when smoke is heavy, such as can occur in close proximity to a wildfire, it’s bad for everyone.”
Forest fires create a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. It’s the fine particles that cause the biggest health threat. These particles can penetrate deep into your lungs and may cause minor problems like burning eyes and runny noses, but also much more serious issues like aggravating chronic heart and lung diseases.
“It’s especially important for you to pay attention to local air quality reports during a fire if you are a person with heart or lung disease; an older adult which makes you more likely to have heart or lung disease; caring for children, including teenagers because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air; a person with diabetes, or a pregnant woman.
You’ll know if the smoke is affecting you if besides the burning eyes and runny nose you’re coughing, wheezing, feeling short of breath, experiencing chest pains or palpitations and/or feeling fatigued.
Since we live in a fire-prone area it’s important to take some precautions. Those of you with heart, vascular or lung disease including asthma are advised to talk to your health care professional right now.
“Discuss when to leave the area, how much medicine to have on hand, and your asthma action plan if you have asthma,” AirNow says.
“Have a several-day supply of nonperishable foods that do not require cooking. Cooking – especially frying and broiling – can add to indoor pollution levels,” they say.
They also say to consider purchasing an air cleaner prior to wildfire season. “Some room cleaners can help reduce particle levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your rooms as specified by the manufacturer.” Stay away from one that generates ozone, those will just put the particles back into your house.
“Use common sense to guide your activities,” Air Now suggests. “Even if you don’t have a monitor in your area, if it looks or smells smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. And it’s probably not a good time for children – especially children with asthma – to be vigorously active outdoors, or active outdoors for prolonged periods of time.
“If you are active outdoors, pay attention to symptoms. Symptoms are an indication that you need to reduce exposure,” they say.
Now that you’re confined indoors, make sure the air in the house is as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed and run the air conditioner, if you have one. If it’s really hot out and you don’t have AC it’s a good idea to go somewhere that does.
“When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. Try to avoid using anything that burns such a wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves and even candles. Don’t vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don’t smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in the lungs of people around you,” AirNow advises.
Let’s hope we don’t have the fire season we had last year. It’s not good for the breath-taking beauty of our community and it’s not good for taking a breath of air.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com.