Jackson County Health & Human Services
140 S. Holly Street • Medford, Oregon 97501

August 20, 2019
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29 July 2019

Guidance on Air Quality and Wearing Masks

Wildfire Smoke

Guidance on Air Quality and Wearing Masks

Medford, OR – Jackson County public health officials continue to urge residents to take precautions from wildfire smoke.

Milepost 97 near Canyonville is affecting air quality in the region and smoke conditions are expected to continue through the week. Smoke levels can rise and fall depending on weather factors, including wind direction, so people need to be observant of the air quality during wildfire season.

The most effective way to protect yourself during wildfire emergencies is to stay indoors or limit your time outdoors when there is smoke in the air. This is especially important if you have heart or lung disease and are at higher risk for adverse health effects. Reducing physical activity and using HEPA-filtered air cleaners indoors are other ways to reduce your smoke exposure. Consider temporary relocation out of the smoky area if possible. By limiting your exposure one of these ways, you may not need to wear a particulate respirator.

If you must be outdoors, wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also help protect 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.

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. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ashland Smoke Wise has information on how to wear the particulate respirators, see website links below.

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. The particulate respirators are not made to fit the children and special testing called “fit testing” is required in occupational settings.

Particulate respirators 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, particulate 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.

Download the article titled Protect Your Lungs from Wildfire Smoke and Ash for more information on masking.


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