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The California Wildfires May be Impacting Your Health
-- Here's How to Keep YOUR Air Clean

The tragic October wildfires in Southern California took seven lives and destroyed 2,000 homes. But even though the flames have died down, there's still a threat lurking in the air over Southern California, and beyond: extreme amounts of pollution.

california wild fires 2007

The California wildfires that burned from October 19-26, 2007 released nearly 9 tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

The wildfires that burned from October 19-26 emitted an amount of greenhouse gases that's equivalent to 500,000 cars traveling on the road for one year, according to the California Air Resources Board.

And according to two Colorado scientists, the fires likely emitted 8.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, the primary global warming gas, into the air.

Aside from taking a heavy toll on the environment -- wildfires, for instance, may be causing the boreal forests in northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia, China, Scandinavia and other areas to give off more carbon than they absorb -- the pollution presents a risk to your health.

Health Risks of Wildfire-Related Air Pollution

The majority of wildfire smoke is made up of water vapor, but it also contains gases and small particles including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, and air toxics, according to the San Diego Air Pollution Control District (SDAPCD).

When you breathe these particles in, they can build up in your respiratory system, resulting in burning eyes, cough, a runny nose and illnesses like bronchitis. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk from smoke-contaminated air, as are people with chronic illnesses. The particles in wildfire smoke can aggravate:

  • Heart disease such as congestive heart failure

  • Lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Emphysema

  • Asthma

Part of what makes wildfire pollution so dangerous is that the tiny particles in the smoke -- they're smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, which means several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of a sentence -- reach the deepest recesses of your lungs and enter your bloodstream where they accelerate hardening of the arteries, negatively affecting heart function.

The tiny particles can actually overwhelm your lungs and mucus membranes, according to the American Lung Association of California, which results in mucus and soot build-up. This, in turn, increases your risk of infections like sinusitis and bronchitis.

If you have had a heart attack, being exposed to tiny particles will also increase your risk of having a second one.

Air Pollution is All Around Us

If you live in an area affected by wildfires, you know that the air quality is poor if you see or smell smoke. But even areas far removed from the actual fires are impacted. For instance, U.S. wildfires release an average of 322 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year, according to a new study in Carbon Balance and Management.

Although these emissions make up just 5 percent of the carbon dioxide released from burning gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels, at the state level fire emissions can exceed the annual emissions from fossil fuels.

Of course, wildfires are not the only source of air pollution. Cars, trucks, fireplaces, coal-burning power plants and many, many other factors also contribute.

Exposure to air pollution has been linked to at least 16 health problems, including genetic abnormalities.

And, alarmingly, in the most polluted cities it has been estimated that lives are shortened by an average of one to two years, according to research by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.

Consider that every day we breathe in about 15,000 liters of air (that's about six to 10 liters every minute), according to the American Lung Association. So efficient are our lungs, that that air is drawn across 600 to 900 square feet of surface area in the tiny sacs in our lungs.

wildfire air pollution

Dangerous particles in the air can stay in an area for weeks after the flames of a wildfire have been put out.

This gives you an idea of how important having clean air to breathe truly is.

How to Keep Your Home's Air Clean

First off, if you live in an area impacted by wildfires, you should not go outside if it's smoky. You definitely don't want to do any exercise outdoors or let your children outside to play if there's smoke in the air.

You should also keep the particle levels you release indoors to a minimum by not burning anything including wood stoves, gas stoves, candles and cigarettes.

It's important to also avoid vacuuming when smoke levels are high, as this will stir up particles that are in your home.

PIONAIRWatch a live animated demonstration of how the PIONAIR Air Treatment System works, and why its "photocatalysis" technology makes it superior to other air purifiers.

See the Animated PIONAIR Demonstration Now!

Next, whether you live in an area with wildfires or not, you should consider very seriously getting a high-quality air purifier for your home.

Indoor air can be two to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so air purifiers are becoming more and more of a necessity.

The challenge with most air purifiers, however, is that the air must be drawn to the unit, either through natural airflow or through the use of a fan. This method results in uneven treatment and can leave pockets of polluted air.

Unlike most air purifiers, the PIONAIR Air Treatment System, which highly recommends, doesn't wait for pollutants to contact a filter or plate. Instead, the PIONAIR generates air-purifying technology that migrates through the area and neutralizers organic odors, microbes and molds at their source.

As a result, the PIONAIR produces fresh, clean air throughout your home or office uniformly, by addressing the pollutant source, without the use of fans, filters or plates.

How does it work?

PIONAIR uses photocatalysis, which is designed to oxidize organic odors, germs, and fungi. The PIONAIR technology creates ultraviolet light rays, safe levels of ozone, and passive negative ions as part of your air treatment. This is not just any old air filter -- it is an air purifier that duplicates Nature's own methods of air cleaning and revitalization.

Aside from a high-quality air purifier, there are other steps you can also take to keep your home's air pure and fresh, and your family healthy.

  • If pollution is particularly heavy in your area, keep your windows and doors closed and run your air conditioner (make sure the filter is clean).

  • When smoke is outside, or pollution is heavy, be sure to drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic) to keep your respiratory tract moist.

  • Avoid high levels of smog and pollution. These are typically highest during the midday and afternoon. If you're in a high-risk group, don't go outside when ozone levels are high.

  • Exercise when the air is cleaner. When you exercise (or work strenuously), you draw air more deeply into your lungs, and therefore risk more damage from air pollution. To protect yourself and get the numerous health benefits of exercise, avoid exercising near congested streets and during rush-hour traffic, and definitely if there's a wildfire burning in your area.

Recommended Reading

BEWARE: Your Fireplace or Wood Burning Stove May Be Harming Your Health in an Unexpected Way

Health Threats from Air Pollution Greater for Diabetics


Nature 450, 89-92 (1 November 2007)

Carbon Balance and Management 2007, 2:10, November 1, 2007

County of San Diego Air Pollution Control District

California Air Resources Board

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