Watch CBS News

Experts Recommend Preparation For Air Quality Emergencies Connected To Wildfires

LOS GATOS (KPIX 5) -- Health departments in the nine Bay Area counties are urging the public to prepare for unhealthy air from future wildfires.

"Unfortunately, these wildfires and the size and the scope of them have become the new normal here in the Bay Area," said Dr. Jan Gurley of the San Francisco Public Health Department.

The devastating fires in Northern California the last two years led to health emergencies for some people and difficulty in breathing for many others due to bad air quality from the smoke.

"Oh, it was terrible. You couldn't see more than a half mile. I do a lot of hiking and it was hard to breathe," said Jeff Gasik of Saratoga.

Bay Area public health officials have come up with some new guidelines to help people in air quality emergencies.

When smoke filled the bay, most people donned masks or bandanas, thinking they would filter out the tiny smoke particles that can lodge deep in your lungs and lead to respiratory problems, especially for children and older folks.

But the new thinking is that's wrong.

"If you're wearing a bandana or one of those pleated masks that goes around your ears, it is doing you zero good. Zero," said Dr. Gurley.

She also said the N-95 respirators have to be perfectly fitted to your face to be effective and you can't have facial hair.

And they can actually be bad for many people because they're so hard to breathe through.

"People who have respiratory problems may not realize if it's the air or the mask that is bothering them," Dr. Gurley said.

The best thing for people to do is smoke-proof their homes by filling tiny gaps in doorways and keeping windows closed.

The guidelines also recommend residents change filters on air conditioners and heating units to one with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating of 13 or higher.

Getting an air filtration system is also recommended, though they can be expensive. The best ones come with price tags of over a thousand dollars, but even small units costing around $300 can filter out the dangerous particles.

While a HEPA filter will be the best line of defense against unhealthy air, adding plants can also help purify air in a home of toxic chemicals.

According to a NASA study, some of the best plants to detox indoor air include the peace lily, snake plant,  Boston fern, spider plant and Chinese evergreen to name a few you can get at your local nursery.

"The best way to protect your breathing is stay indoors in a cleaner air space," Dr. Gurley said.

To Jeff Gasik, there is one other obvious solution which seems tougher than ever to reach in California:

"Somehow, stop the fires," he said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.