Wildfires are a very real and dangerous problem--which was really brought to national attention thanks to several in California and the west in 2018.
With what is now officially the most deadly wildfire season on record in the state, California experienced widespread fires everywhere from Mendocino to Ventura County.
In addition to the drastic loss of human life and billions of dollars spent to repair the resulting damage, the air quality in California into nearby states and beyond decreased significantly for several weeks.
There was an increase in air pollutants during the height of the July and August fires. And the air quality diminished again during the November Camp Fire that ripped through the town of Paradise. The majority of the Bay Area was subjected to air quality indexes (AQIs) of 200 and above, in the "unhealthy" region.
Many of us here with My Patriot Supply team in Idaho, where about a dozen of us live and work, experienced wildfire smoke last year, not only from California, but from neighboring states of Oregon and Washington, too.
This is concerning, especially considering that poor air quality can lead to serious health issues such as…
- Lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.
- Heart attacks and arrhythmia.
Additionally, according to the New York Times, “the EPA also suggests that more vulnerable populations (children, older people, pregnant women and people with asthma or cardiovascular disease) may be more susceptible to the health hazards of wildfire smoke.”
Because of this, indoor air filtration is of the utmost importance to combat these disasters.
That’s why I’m going to share here the importance of air filtration and how a simple indoor system can be set up to protect yourself and your family from harmful fumes.
Threats to Our Air Quality
Even people not directly threatened by the fires themselves are concerned about what to do about wildfire smoke. While they are certainly an ever-present threat, wildfires aren’t the only thing that can compromise our healthy air supply.
According to the World Health Organization, about 7 million people die each year from air pollution. More than 90% of the world's children breathe polluted air that puts their health at risk.
For example, as the Desert Sun reported in December 2018, the Mexicali area has some of the poorest air quality in both the United States and Mexico, largely due to pollution from manufacturing plants that lie nearby across our southern border.
Unfortunately, the air that drifts across the border from Mexicali into areas such as Imperial County in California has been found to contain fine particles of lead, chlorine, and other toxic substances.
But the threat to our air quality doesn’t simply come from pollution south of the border. Pollution is produced within the United States, with cities like Fresno and Los Angeles having some of the highest levels of PM10 anywhere in the Americas.
Although the U.S. passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, the rate of improvement has diminished significantly at times in the past few years.
To determine your risk in your area, you can check local air quality here.
Additionally, the EPA estimates that indoor air is two to five times dirtier than outdoor air, and common allergens such as dust, mold, and dander can cause irritation for those suffering from allergies.
This all makes a strong case for indoor air filtration…which brings me to my next point.
Basic Air Filtration Tips
If your area is affected by wildfires or the smoke that floats through the air hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles from the source, it’s important you take certain steps to protect your indoor air supply. And, as I just shared, there are plenty of other reasons to generally take steps to purify your air.
In a moment I’ll address air filtration systems. But first, there are a few basic tips to keep in mind, such as...
- Purchase an air purifier: Portable purifiers are one of the most effective ways to clear your air of smoke, dust, pollen, and other contaminants (more on that in a moment).
- Seal your home: Most of the time, outside air contains fewer particulates than indoor air, so open windows are encouraged. However, during wildfires, air purifiers can become overwhelmed when too many particles are in the air and won’t clean as effectively. Therefore, keep doors, windows, and fireplace dampers closed when possible during a poor Air Quality Index event.
- Purchase extra purifier filters: You will need to change filters more often than normal if wildfire smoke hangs in the air for days or weeks. Stay aware of a lingering smoke smell while the air purifier is running. This could either mean you need to switch to a higher setting, or it’s time for a filter change.
- Run your window or central air: Be sure to set the fan on recirculate or close the fresh air intake--you don’t want smoke-filled air to come in.
- Avoid additional smoke: Burning candles or wood in the fireplace and smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products will only make matters worse and add more smoke to the indoor air. Additionally, when wildfire smoke is present, avoid vacuuming as it can stir up particles already in your home.
How Air Filtration Systems Work
Even if you take steps to seal yourself up in your home, dangerous microscopic particles carried by the wind can find their way into your house.
Air filtration and purification systems remove unhealthy airborne particles via a system of internal fans to pull the air in your home through various filters. The system then circulates the purified air back into the room. This process repeats itself several times over the course of an hour.
What to Look For in a Quality Air Filtration System
When it comes to finding and selecting an effective air filtration system, look for…
- A true-HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) air filter: Wildfire smoke predominantly consists of fine particles in the 0.4 to 0.7 micron range, and unlike other filters, true-HEPA air filters are able to remove particles of that size from the air. True-HEPA means 99.97% removal of these air particles. Avoid being tricked into HEPA-like units that only remove 99% of particles. If you do the math, there is a 33x difference between 99% and the True-HEPA standard for 99.97%. 33x is huge!
- Activated carbon filters: Also referred to as an activated charcoal filter, these filters use small, absorbent pores to capture pollutants as they pass through the filter. They are ideal for removing odors, chemicals, and smoke from the air.
- Ionic air purifiers: Ionic air purifiers send streams of negative ions into the air that attach to airborne particles, making them too heavy to remain airborne. Be sure to look for ionic purifiers that turn the byproduct of ionization into water, rather than ozone.
- Pre-filters: Some units use a pre-filter to capture large airborne particles before they reach the HEPA filter, which can help in extending the purifier’s life.
- CADR Rating: A Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) rating indicates the size of the space a purifier can optimally clean. Look for a CADR rating of at least 200, which means the unit effectively delivers clean air to 200 cubic feet of space per minute.
As an example, the Alexapure Breeze has a CADR rating of 315 and combines four stages of filtration in one efficient (and quiet!) unit.
Using a true-HEPA filter, activated carbon filter, and patented IonCluster technology, the Breeze removes up to 99.97% of airborne contaminants from your home.
All that said, air filtration, no matter how effective, can only go so far.
If you’re having significant trouble breathing due to wildfire smoke, you are likely no longer safe with an air filtration system and need to evacuate an area for your own safety.
Whether it’s wildfire season (typically mid-summer through late autumn) or not, keeping your indoor air clean and healthy is of the utmost importance for you and your family.
Don’t wait before it’s too late--use the tips and suggestions included here today.
Stay alert and safe this weekend, friends... and breathe easy!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply