How Breathing in Wildfire Smoke Affects the Body
As wildfire smoke becomes a part of life on the West Coast, so do its health risks
As of 14 September 2020, a total of over 7,500 fires have burned close to 3.5 million acres, more than 3% of the state’s roughly 100 million acres of land. This makes 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in California’s history. The effects of this 1 month of destruction on nature and wildlife have been devastating.
For more than 7 million people in California’s Bay Area living through this historic wildfires, it’s been hard to breathe for the past month. For 29 days, the state has been under a “Spare the Air” alert, which means inhaling outdoor air is extremely unsafe. Air quality was even worse in Oregon and Washington, and as of writing, the smoke had stretched all the way to the East Coast.
The haze along the West Coast has created the most polluted air in the world over the past month, forcing millions of people indoors. California and its neighboring states Nevada and Arizona have had a record of bad air days. Air quality in major West Coast cities today is worse than in Delhi, India, one of the world’s most polluted cities.
Even if residents follow all precautions — a task made more difficult because of Covid-19 — the smoke still creates short and long-term health risks for everyone exposed. Air filters and purifiers have largely been sold out, and people are buying personal air quality monitors to use in their homes.
Impact on the Human Body
Wildfire smoke is a very complex type of air pollution. It contains a variety of gases and particles from the materials that fuel the fire, including ozone, carbon monoxide, polycyclic compounds, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter — pollutants linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. It can affect our lungs, kidneys, liver, and brain.
When wildfire smoke enters the airway, the tiny particles that it contains, which are about 30 times smaller than a human hair, can get lodged deep in the lungs and injure the lining. Breathing in this can lead our body to respond by release some immune cells to fight the virus. However, as this is very small, this pollution cannot be broken down by our immune response and results in long-lasting inflammation. There’s also some evidence that wildfire air pollution can trigger irregular heart rhythms.
Potential to Worsen Covid-19
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, exposure to wildfire smoke can prevent a person from fighting off respiratory disease like Covid-19. One study recently published that exposure to wildfire smoke correlated with 3 to 5 times more flu cases later in the year.
Research also shows that the populations of people who were more vulnerable to Covid-19 — those with low incomes, have pre-existing conditions, and poor access to health care — may also be vulnerable to the impact of wildfires.
How We Can Help
As an air quality monitoring company, we want to help in whatever ways we can during this tragic California wildfires. On behalf of our team in Seoul, we want to extend our deepest sympathies to those who’ve lost their lives and hope that the brave serviceman and women battling these fires have all the support that they need.
For the next two weeks, we will be slashing the price of PiCO Home on Amazon by 15% ($19.35 in savings) to make it more affordable and accessible to everyone and donate $3.30 for every unit sold to the California Fire Foundation, a foundation dedicated to providing critical support to surviving families of fallen firefighters, firefighters, and the communities they serve.