Wildfire and Air Quality

Our heart goes out to the people in Maui. We extend our deepest sympathies to those affected by the wildfires. The lives lost and the devastation to the community weighs heavily on our hearts, as the tragedy continues to unfold.

Wildfires seem to be an ongoing challenge in our environment; the number of acreage burned due to wildfires have more than doubled since the 1990s. The following is a United States map of active fire locations: https://fire.airnow.gov/

With all these wildfires, your IAQA education team and your IAQA board would like to provide you with some resources and tools, to be a more informed IAQ professional and to learn how to protect yourself during your assessments. This message will focus on potential health impacts and pollutants of concern. At this time, we will not focus on sampling methods, but feel free to reach out with specific questions and we will help.

Dominating the potential health impact is particulate matter (PM). PM can cause harm to our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The US EPA has established outdoor air standards for PM10 and PM2.5. We recommend you click on the following link to learn more about the PM (general knowledge and definitions) https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics#PM.

And if you want to learn about particle pollution and the potential health impacts to your client look at these two links: https://www.epa.gov/pmcourse/learn-about-particle-pollution-and-your-patients-health-course  or https://www.epa.gov/pmcourse/particle-pollution-exposure

Solid particles are not the only problem – we have to worry about chemicals. When plastics, carpeting, tires, man-made building materials, etc.… burn they release numerous chemicals, some of which maybe carcinogenic.  The toxic chemicals released during burning include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and polycyclic organic matter (POMs). Burning plastic and treated wood also releases heavy metals and toxic chemicals, such as dioxin.

Wildfire smoke is comprised of a mixture of gaseous pollutants (e.g., carbon monoxide), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs]), water vapor, and particle pollution. Particle pollution represents a main component of wildfire smoke and the principal public health threat.

Known as HAPs, these pollutants have also been linked to cancer and birth defects, among other health problems (USEPA). Examples include benzene, formaldehyde, lead, and mercury compounds. Even after a fire, these chemicals may still be present. You should use the appropriate respirator to protect yourself during an assessment https://www.epa.gov/haps.

This is just a starting point, but I hope it helps – A smarter IAQ professional can be a help to some many.  An educated and fully engaged IAQA professional is a valuable resource to all.