Environmental Protection

'Safe Room' Offers Better Air Quality during Wildfires

IQAir North America, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of air cleaning products, has expanded its Clean Air Campaign, a program designed to help wildfire victims create a "safe room" indoors, where health officials are advising the general public to stay.

"The problem with staying indoors is that small particles from the smoke will eventually make their way inside your home, through cracks and gaps in the building and become trapped," said Frank Hammes, president of the company. "At IQAir, we want you and your family to have a 'safe room.' This is particularly vital for people with respiratory problems, including asthma, emphysema and bronchitis."

According to a report by the Air Quality Management District, smoke from the Station Fire near La Canada continues to cause unhealthy to hazardous air quality in the San Gabriel Mountains and the West San Gabriel Valley. Very high concentration of fine particulates are occurring in areas of direct smoke impact near the fire, especially in the foothill communities of Altadena, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Tujunga, Sunland, Montrose and Acton. Everyone should avoid physical activity in these areas.

"It's been a long time since we've recorded an [air quality index] of this high a level," said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The following tips will help you to create a "safe room" in your home during heavy outdoor smoke from wildfires:

  • After closing doors and windows, use duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal cracks around the doors and outside vents.
  • Replace your furnace filter with a high-efficiency filter upgrade. These are available from most hardware and home improvement stores and cost $30-$60.
  • Run your air conditioning system. You can run the fan only, if you are comfortable with the temperature. Constantly cycling the air through your air conditioning system with upgraded air filters will remove some of the air pollutants.
  • Don't run your bathroom exhaust fans, since this can cause more polluted outside air to be drawn into the home.
  • Create a safe-room within your house with the help of a room air cleaner with a HEPA filter. This will be the room where particularly sensitive members of your family, those with emphysema, allergies or asthma can retreat to. Room air cleaners with HEPA filters are available through specialty retailers and can be purchased over the Internet. Expect to pay about $800 for a good HEPA room air cleaner. Do not use ionizers or electrostatic precipitators that are commonly sold as air purifiers. These products can exacerbate breathing problems as they can create ozone and lead to increased deposition of particulates into lung tissue.
  • If you do have to go outside, you may want to wear a fine dust mask (such as an N-95 rated mask), available at home improvement stores. These masks will typically sell for $5-$40. If you do not have access to a mask, you may use a wet cloth to breathe through. Do not use the simple surgical masks, as used by doctors, because they are ineffective against small smoke particles.

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