The purpose of this post is to share resources and ideas with residents who need to protect their own families now. Adequate action to protect public health may not come for years. This page is developed for individuals in sensitive groups and those who want to stay healthy.
Sensitive Groups: All children, people with lung conditions (chronic bronchitis, asthma, or other lung conditions), heart conditions including high blood pressure, or diabetes (higher risk of having heart conditions), and elders (often have undiagnosed heart or lung conditions) are at greatest risk. In addition, pregnant mothers and women who may become pregnant need to take extra precautions because the baby growing inside is vulnerable to permanent damage from PM 2.5 pollution.
Individuals Who Want to Stay Healthy: Individuals who are currently healthy and want to prevent future health problems should take precautions. Damage can start with chronic exposure or with one thick, choking breath of toxin-laden smoke (especially harmful if you’re exercising). If you are already taking care of yourself by exercising, eating properly, using your seatbelt, and plan to live a long and productive life, you have everything to gain by reducing your exposure to PM 2.5. Athletes, because of their higher respiration rate during exercise, are at higher risk but typically are left off the list of sensitive groups.
Knowing your risk, exposure, and options will help you make the best choice for you and your family. As parents, we hold primary responsibility for the health of our children so they may reach their fullest physical and intellectual potential. Summer wildfires, smoke from space heating, coal-burning, and diesel vehicles all contribute to unhealthy levels of PM 2.5. For winter source analysis, see pie graph in previous post Woodsmoke Hogs the Pie (Chart).
Consult with your own doctor to assess your risk & vulnerabilities – or make an appointment with a pulmonology specialist. Consider: Chest Medicine, 1701 Gillam Way, Fairbanks, AK 99701-6056, (907) 456-3750.
Test your house – Have a local firm test your house or business for indoor or outdoor air pollutants. Solutions to Healthy Breathing (907)457-4568 offers indoor and outdoor air quality, radon, and mold testing.
Install digital CO and smoke detectors with alarms – Everyone, especially wood burners, should have a home digital carbon monoxide monitor. See EPA’s publication on protecting your family from CO poisoning. In addition, replace batteries in home smoke detectors every 6 months. If your home is on fire or filling up with smoke from a neighbor’s wood or coal boiler, you need the alarm to wake you up so you can get your family out in time.
Trade-out polluting heating systems – Move into low or zero emission heating systems, install windows designed for passive solar uptake, and upgrade your home’s insulation. Alaska Thermal Imaging conducts home energy ratings and thermal imaging to identify heat loss and install high-efficiency heating and domestic hot water systems, (907)488.4332, firstname.lastname@example.org. Alaska Thermal Imaging can also help to identify indoor air pollution sources through combustion safety and ventilation testing.
Turn off your HRV – If the air pollution source is known to be from outside and expected to be of short duration, turn off your Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) system. Ventilation systems can bring smoke pollution into your home as effectively as if you opened all the windows. Examine your HRV filters and look up their labels; Google “MERV” to learn more about what level of filtration your current ventilation system provides. It may be designed to filter the air just enough to keep the HRV mechanism from getting clogged. HRVs are designed to recirculate stale (and possibly contaminated air) from inside your home, conserve its heat, and replace it with clean air from outside before venting it outdoors. So, if the outside air is full of smoke, turn off your HRV to preserve the clean air you have left.
Filter your house air – Expensive but could be a lifesaver. A local firm installs heat recovery ventilation (HRV) and residential air filtration, and radon mitigation systems: Ventilation Solutions, LLC (907)374-6838, email@example.com, 3245 College Road, Fairbanks, AK 99709. A residential air filtration system that is nearly as good as HEPA runs around $900 for installation with an existing HRV. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes “Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home” to guide users in selecting home filters appropriate for the pollution problem. Cold Climate Housing Research Center & Alaska Housing Finance Corporation studied different ventilation and filtration strategies to improve indoor air quality during the 2004 summer wildfires.
Use a gas mask – P-100 (HEPA) filter masks are not pretty (or these either), were designed for industrial use, and are not likely to fit well enough to be effective. Mostly manufactured by 3M, these half-face or full-face (to protect the eyes) respirator mask filters cost about $20. Be sure they filter PM 2.5 and smaller particles. User would need to know when to the filter needs to be changed and what new filters cost. They are difficult to breathe through, have to be fitted to a person’s face, don’t come in child sizes, and couldn’t be on during snacks or lunch. Adults should recognize that they don’t seal properly with beards or stubble. According to one review: “The general use of RPE (respiratory protection equipment) by anyone who has not been fit tested, trained in fitting, maintenance, storage, or indeed limitations can be expected to result in seriously deficient protection.” Search Google for “air filter face mask” to see what’s available.
Move to breathe cleaner air – While this may not be your first choice, don’t wait too long to consider it. Some families have left already at the recommendation of their doctor. When forced to choose between community and family, family comes first.
For more information – Review previous posts Health Impacts of PM 2.5 Particle Pollution. Check previous post Real-time Monitoring but be advised that air quality is often much worse in hot zones in neighborhoods and near schools. Local blog North Pole Clean Air provides a wealth of information about risk, harm of exposure, and options for reducing exposure.
No compensation has been given for inclusion on these pages and in no way are they to be considered exhaustive. This posting intended to support considerations of how an individual can take control of his or her own exposure to PM 2.5.
If your business offers a service relevant to this post, please include your name, contact information, and services offered in the comments field below.