Ashes to Ashes, Forest to Fire, We Know California’s Situation is Dire

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Courtesy of Kat Miner. Yellow smoke from the fires dominates cities.

Roberto Cotlear

California is on fire, again. How terrible 2020 is has become a bad joke at this point, and the wildfires are just another part of the punchline. Fires are terrible for the environment around us, and they also manage to be horrible for the body itself. In a time where going outside is already limited, smoke only further diminishes the public’s exposure to the outside. 

The notion that breathing in an excess of smoke everyday into one’s lungs is not great for their health isn’t exactly mind breaking. Smoke from the wildfire contains many substances like carbon, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The immediate effects of the smoke are ones that are easy to identify like coughing and eye irritation. According to the American Lung Association, the particles in the smoke can cause heart attacks, strokes, Asthma attacks and much more. The Carbon Monoxide found in the smoke can also cause problems down the road from coughing to nausea and sometimes when the concentration is high enough, death. In addition to the Carbon Monoxide, there are still more harms produced by the wildfires. According to The World Health Organization, wildfires also release mercury into the air which can ultimately cause muscle weakness and vision problems for people. 

As sobering as that sounds, even more serious effects may come farther down the line. According to National Geographic, there are many tiny particles in smoke that are small enough and recognizable by the body to get into the lungs When that happens, the immune system sends immune cells to destroy what it believes to be a virus, but since the smoke particles are not a virus, the immune cells will fail to do their job properly and cause inflammation instead. This inflammation can be really dangerous, leading to problems with the kidney, liver, lungs or even the brain. Sarah Henderson, an Air pollution researcher at the University of British Columbia, told National Geographic, “We don’t have a clear understanding of what health effects are on an unborn fetus, but systemic inflammation on a woman who is pregnant may affect her baby”.

It may seem logical to believe that masks will protect people against smoke. However, that is not fully the case. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), wearing “cloth masks” will not help with the smoke. The masks are meant to keep the “respiratory droplets” from possibly infecting other people, so particles as small as the one’s seen in wildfire smoke will not be stopped by the masks. However, that is only with cloth masks, so masks made with different materials should prove much more effective for dealing with the smoke. 

The best way to determine the air pollution in one’s  area is by using an Air Quality Index (AQI). According to Airnow.gov, an AQI tells how bad pollution is by measuring it on a scale from one to five hundred.Higher the number, the worse the pollution. The main six levels are identified by color with green being under hundred which indicates good air quality, and maroon being the worst at over three hundred which indicates that the levels of pollution is extremely hazardous. According to The Washington post, checking the AQI has become a normal part of people’s lives. People have been buying air purifiers and keeping their windows and doors shut to protect themselves from the smoke. 

As terrifying as all of this sounds, there are many things people can do to combat the risks of wildfire smoke. The most obvious of course are to not physically excerpt yourself and trying to stay in doors. According to PBS, there are many things that can be helpful with dealing with the smoke. As stated before, people can use tools such as the AQI and weather forecast to find out the air quality of that day and make plans according to the conditions. Resources like portable air purifiers can be good for indoors.There are groups of people that will be hit harder by the smoke, like those with Asthma, heart conditions and diabetes, so it is important for them to stay cautious. 

This is not the first time California and the coast have been on fire and definitely will not be the last. Things have certainly improved air quality wise in this area as of late, but the next fire is around the corner and that means when the pollution comes in, it is important to know why the pollution is bad for people in order to stay safe in these troubling times.