Close the house, stay inside and filter
One of the recommendations from Colorado health officials to endure the harmful air pollution that enveloped residents this summer, included in the state report air quality website until Wednesday night, was to “try to move to a place with cleaner air”.
This can be hard to find, given the quality of the air in Colorado this summer thanks to wildfires in the west and high ozone pollution. State officials then clarified those guidelines to suggest that people temporarily move away from smoky areas or go inside if they are outside.
Creating a relatively safe space inside your home may be the best option.
The idea is to reduce the levels of tiny particles – 2.5 microns in diameter – of soot, ash and dust in forest fire smoke which can lead to immediate and long-term health problems such as difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and lung and heart disease.
Inhaling particulate matter, especially when combined with the already high ozone pollution along the Colorado waterfront, is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with sensitive immune systems.
Maximizing clean air in your living space under current conditions induced by global warming – 36 consecutive days under air quality alerts due to smoke and ozone – requires reversing standard procedures .
Contaminated indoor air traditionally causes greater damage from radon, mold, dust, lead, asbestos and gaseous emissions from consumer products and building materials, according to ministry officials. Colorado Public Health and Environment. And better ventilation – letting in outside air – has been the standard remedy.
Now the outside air is the threat.
“Obviously you don’t want to keep your windows open. Keep everything closed for now – common sense, ”said Caryn Orr of RDS Environmental at Broomfield, an indoor air testing company.
Most healthy people are not expected to suffer more than minor, short-term health problems from heavy particulate matter and ozone, state health officials say. But the effects of prolonged exposure to multiple pollutants are still not fully understood.
Here are the steps, tips and recommendations from state, federal and private sector authorities to endure this summer’s latest smoke and ozone onslaught in your home:
Use air conditioning to filter your air
Filter the air if possible using air conditioning or evaporative coolers. These contain filters that remove certain particles from the outside air before it enters your living space. Keep the AC power on. But change the old filters because otherwise you could make bad air worse. You can also run the fan of your home heating system, if that system is filtered, with the heating turned off. Keep all exterior inlet valves closed and make sure the furnace filters are clean.
Don’t let it get too hot
Don’t close off your living space too tightly if the result is sweltering heat inside, the state health department warns. Excessive heat also causes damage to health.
Close your windows at night
Be vigilant at night as smoke from forest fires tends to thicken in the dark. Keep bedroom windows closed.
Get a HEPA filter or do some DIY
Consider installing a mechanical HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration system. If the cost is too high or you don’t want to go to appliance stores, you can make a filter using a box fan. Attach a furnace filter – the experts in Washington state who have done this recommend a MERV-13 filter or better – to a fan using duct tape, bungee cords or screws. Make sure to attach the filter to the back of the fan to ensure that air flows through the filter towards the fan.
Cool it down on outdoor exercise
Avoid exercise or other strenuous activities outdoors in heavy smoke or ozone, because breathing more means you inhale more. While the N95 masks that many residents have used during the COVID-19 pandemic provide protection against smoke, they can be rare. Widely used fabric face covers offer little protection from harmful air pollutants outdoors, as they do not capture most of the small particles in smoke.
Find indoor places to visit
Try to find places to go temporarily, such as shopping malls, cinemas, or recreation centers, where the air can be at least partially filtered.
Be prepared to run away
Be prepared to evacuate due to heavy smoke if necessary, state health officials say. This means planning an evacuation route and destination, and packing items you can’t live without.