Jackson County public health officials continue to urge residents to take precautions from wildfire smoke.
A number of wildfires are currently affecting air quality in the region and smoke conditions are expected to linger in Jackson County through the weekend. Smoke levels can rise and fall depending on weather factors, including wind direction, so it is important for people to be observant of the air quality during wildfire season.
During a wildfire, Jackson County public health officials advise residents to take the following precautions:
- Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with highest concentrations.
- Avoid smoke either by leaving the area or protecting yourself by staying indoors, and by closing windows and doors
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.
- People exposed to smoky conditions and who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers.
It is highly recommended that people stay inside and limit their outdoor activity. This is going to be your best defense in protecting your lungs from wildfire smoke.
If you must be outdoors, wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also provide some protection your lungs from wildfire smoke. You will want to choose a mask called a “particulate respirator” that has the word “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.
Most adults will find it difficult to use the respirators and masks correctly for general use. These masks do require that they are properly fit-tested and used correctly for them to work properly and offer full protection. It is important to know that there are a variety of problems with fit and use of respirators for children, especially small children and infants. The type of respirator that is able to filter out harmful smoke particles is not available in children sizes. It is best to minimize children’s exposure to wildfire smoke.
Three key factors are required for a particulate respirator to be effective: (1) the respirator has to be put on correctly and worn during the exposure; (2) the respirator must fit the user’s face snugly to minimize the number of particles that bypass the filter and get into the breathing zone through gaps between the user’s skin and the respirator seal; and (3) the respirator filter needs to be highly effective at capturing particles that pass through the filter.
It is impossible to get a good seal on individuals with facial hair. It is important to make sure the respirator fits properly and that air does not leak around the sides. If it does not fit properly, the respirator will provide little if any protection, and may offer the wearer a false sense of protection.
Filtering face-piece respirators and masks can make the work of breathing more difficult and can lead to increased breathing rates and heart rates. They can also contribute to heat stress.
Because of this, respirator use by those with heart and respiratory diseases should only be done under a doctor’s supervision. Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes it uncomfortable to wear a respirator for more than short periods of time.
Decisions on whether to use respirators or masks as personal protection for people who must work outside should be made with the employer. Contact Oregon OSHA for information on occupation regulations for particulate respirators https://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/index.aspx.
For more information on using the visibility index during wildfires http://www.oregon.gov/deq/aq/Pages/Wildfires-Visibility.aspx