Friday, July 8, 2016


Wildfire Smoke and Your Health

When smoke levels are high, even healthy people may have symptoms or health problems.

The best thing to do is to limit your exposure to smoke. Depending on your situation, a

combination of the strategies below may work best and give you the most protection from

wildfire smoke. The more you do to limit your exposure to wildfire smoke, the more you’ll

reduce your chances of having health effects.


Stay informed:

The Oregon Smoke blog

has information about air

quality in your community:


Frequently asked questions about

wildfire smoke and public health

Wildfire smoke

Q: Why is wildfire smoke bad for my health?

A: Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and

fine particles from burning trees and other

plant material. The gases and fine particles

can be dangerous if inhaled. In wildfires,

carbon monoxide is mainly a risk to people

(like firefighters) who work near smoldering

areas. Smoke can irritate your eyes and your

respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart

and lung diseases. The amount and length

of smoke exposure, as well as a person’s

age and degree of susceptibility, play a role

in determining if someone will experience

smoke-related health problems. If you are experiencing serious medical problems for any

reason, seek medical attention immediately.

Q: Why is everyone talking about particulate matter?

A: The particulate matter (also called “PM”) in wildfire smoke poses the biggest risk to the

public’s health. The potential health effects vary based on the type of plants burning,

atmospheric conditions and, most importantly, the size of the particles. Particles larger than

10 micrometers usually irritate only the eyes, nose and throat. Fine particles 2.5 micrometers

or smaller (PM2.5) can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs, and may cause greater

health concern.

Health effects of wildfire smoke

Q: Who is most likely to have health effects from wildfire smoke exposure?

A: Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing health conditions and those

who are particularly sensitive to air pollution. Sensitive groups include:

• Persons with asthma or other chronic

respiratory disease

• Persons with cardiovascular disease

• Persons ≥ 65 years of age

• Infants and children

• Pregnant woman

• Smokers, especially those who have

smoked for several years


Q: How can I tell if wildfire smoke is affecting me or my family?

A: Wildfire smoke can cause the following:

• Watery or dry eyes

• Persistent cough, phlegm, wheeze,

scratchy throat or irritated sinuses

• Headaches

• Shortness of breath, asthma attack or

lung irritation

• Irregular heartbeat, chest pain or fatigue

• Nonfatal and fatal heart attacks

People with chronic heart disease or lung disease such as asthma and chronic

obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to have serious health effects

from wildfire smoke.

Q: What should I do if I am having a health problem from smoke?

A: If you have a medical emergency from smoke, you should call 911 or go to the hospital

emergency room immediately. Contact your healthcare provider for advice on how to prevent

and treat symptoms from exposure to wildfire smoke.

Strategies to reduce smoke exposure

Q: How can I protect myself and my family from the harmful effects of smoke?

A: Limit your exposure to the smoke:

• Stay indoors whenever possible with the

doors and windows closed.

• Reduce other sources of indoor air

pollution such as smoke from

tobacco, wood-burning stoves and

burning candles.

• Use high-efficiency (HEPA) air-cleaning

filters, if available.

• Avoid vacuuming, which can stir up dust.

• When driving in a vehicle, keep

windows closed with air conditioning

set to recirculate.

• Drink plenty of water to help

reduce symptoms of scratchy throat

and coughing.

Leaving the area of thick smoke may be best for those with health conditions that put them at

higher risk for illness from wildfire smoke.

Q: What can I do to deal with eye irritation from wildfire smoke?

A: Wildfire smoke can cause burning, redness and tearing in the eyes. To relieve the symptoms,

you can use over-the-counter artificial tear drops and drink enough water. Running a

humidifier may also provide relief. Consult with a healthcare provider if symptoms last longer

than several days. If you are in an area where there is a lot of ash or fine dust, consider

wearing goggles.


Q: Should I wear a dust mask or N95 respirator?

A: N95 respirators are filter masks that fit over the nose and mouth. When properly fitted, an

N95 respirator can filter 95% of smoke particles. However, N95 respirators do not filter toxic

gases and vapors.

Most people will find it difficult to correctly use N95 respirators. It is important that the

respirator fits properly and air does not leak around the sides. If it does not fit properly, the

respirator will provide little if any protection, and may offer a false sense of security. Proper fit

testing requires special equipment and training.

N95 respirators can make breathing more difficult and lead to increased breathing and heart

rates. Respirator use by those with heart and respiratory diseases should only be done under a

healthcare provider’s supervision.

Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes it

uncomfortable to wear a respirator for long periods of time. Decisions on whether to use

respirators or masks as personal protection should be made on a case-by-case,

day-to-day basis.

Q: What is the difference between an N95 respirator and a dust mask?

A: N95 respirators are tested and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and

Health (NIOSH) for use in certain work places. N95 respirators are tested to ensure they filter

at least 95% of airborne particles. If an employer requires an employee to wear a respirator,

the employee must be trained and fitted to wear a NIOSH-approved respirator. Voluntary use

of respirators by employees does not eliminate all employer responsibilities under Oregon

OSHA regulations.

Dust masks and surgical masks that are not NIOSH certified are not tested for filtration

effectiveness and may not offer a consistent level of protection from particles. This means that

they may offer little protection.

Q: Will a wet towel or bandana provide any help?

A: Probably not. A wet towel or bandana may stop large particles, but not the fine, small ones

that can get down into the lungs. They will likely provide little protection.

Q: What should I do about closing up my house when it is so hot in there?

A: Make sure you don’t get overheated if you live without air conditioning and have the doors and

windows closed. Consider visiting family members, neighbors or public buildings that have air

conditioning and air filtration. Leaving the area of thick smoke may be best for those with health

conditions that put them at higher risk for illness.


Q: I’ll probably need to go out some time.

Is there a time of day when smoke is

less of a problem?

A: This varies depending on the fire and

the conditions. Check the Department of

Environmental Quality (DEQ) Air Quality

Index. If there is an air quality monitor near

you, the website can give you information

about what time of day the smoke levels are

lowest. The DEQ Air Quality Index can be

found on the Oregon Smoke Blog:

Q: What should I do if I must drive to work?

A. You can reduce smoke exposure by keeping

the windows closed and using the air

conditioner on the recirculate setting. This

can reduce exposure to particles, but not to

the toxic gases in wildfire smoke.

Q: Do air-purifying machines help remove

smoke particles inside buildings?

A: Portable air cleaners with HEPA filters and/or electrostatic precipitators (ESP) can reduce

indoor particle levels, but most are not effective at removing gases and odors. Air cleaners

using ozone will not remove particles unless they also use HEPA filters and/or ESP technology.

Also, humidifiers or dehumidifiers are not air cleaners and will not do much to reduce the

amount of particles in the air during a smoke event.

Q: I operate a nonresidential building with outside air intakes. Should I close the outside

air intakes during a wildfire smoke event?

A. Every nonresidential building has a uniquely designed ventilation system, and any changes,

even temporary ones, can affect building occupants and indoor air quality. If your building is

strictly an office environment, it may be wise to cut back or eliminate outside intake into the

building during a wildfire smoke event. If the building has labs or special ventilation systems,

it may not be wise to reduce outside air flow if ventilation is needed to prevent the build up

of chemicals in the building. We recommend you consult with a heating, ventilation and airconditioning

professional or someone who knows your special ventilation needs for guidance

on this issue.


More information

Q. Where can I find information about ongoing wildfires in Oregon?

A. The Oregon Smoke Blog has more information about wildfires in Oregon:

Q: Where can I find information about air quality in my community?

A. Check the local air quality index (AQI) on the Oregon DEQ’s website:

Q: Our community has an outdoor event scheduled for this evening. Should we cancel it?

A. It depends on the level of smoke exposure. Check with your local health department.

Q: Is climate change affecting wildfires?

A. Hotter, drier weather may increase the likelihood of bigger and more destructive wildfires. The

total area burned, number of fires and size of the fires are all increasing across the western

United States, including Oregon. It is not certain this is due to “climate change,” but it is

happening. As forest fires increase, so does exposure to wildfire smoke.

Q: How does wildfire smoke affect pets and livestock?

A. The effects of smoke are similar for humans and animals. High levels of smoke may irritate

your animal’s eyes and respiratory tract. Strategies to reduce animals’ exposure to smoke are

also similar to those for humans: reduce the time spent in smoky areas, provide animals with

plenty of water, limit activities that will increase breathing and reduce exposure to dust or

other air pollutants. If your pet or livestock is coughing or having difficulty breathing, contact

your veterinarian.

Q. How can wildfires affect drinking water quality?

A. Wildfires destroy plants that stabilize soil. By burning ground cover, fires also release

chemicals such as nitrates and phosphates that affect water quality. Erosion and release of

these chemicals into surface water can decrease the quality of drinking water. Nitrates and

phosphates can also promote growth of harmful algae. Flame retardants used by firefighters

may find a way to drinking water sources. Water suppliers can monitor the drinking water

source upstream of the intake to determine if unhealthy chemicals are in the raw water. Public

drinking water systems can take steps to protect drinking water quality by applying post-fire

erosion control techniques in the watershed.

This document can be provided upon request in an alternate format for individuals with disabilities or in a language other

than English for people with limited English skills. To request this publication in another format or language, contact the

Public Health Division at 971-673-1222, 971-673-0372 for TTY.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hazy, smoky air:
Do you know what to do?

Limit your exposure to wildfire smoke.

Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors.

This can usually provide some protection, especially in a tightly closed,

air conditioned house. Set your A/C to recycle or recirculate, when at

home or in your car, to limit your exposure.

Reduce the amount of time engaged in vigorous

outdoor activity. This can be an important and effective way to

lower the amount of smoke you are breathing in and can minimize health

risks during a smoke event.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution such

as burning cigarettes, candles, gas, propane and wood burning stoves

and furnaces, and vacuuming.

Check current air quality conditions.

Visit for current air quality information.

Individuals with heart and lung disease or other

respiratory illnesses such as asthma should follow their health care

provider’s advice about prevention and treatment of symptoms.


Health Security, Preparedness and Response program

OHA 8622 (08/2013