BFHD: Prolonged exposure to smoke could cause long-term damage

BFHD said prolonged exposure could cause damage

Although the smoke lingering in the Colombia Basin may not affect you immediately, the Benton-Franklin Health District said it could have long-term health implications.

Smoke from fires in Oregon and California continue to slowly push through eastern Washington. The smoke is causing low viability for drivers, residue to gather on cars and trees, and it poses a significant health risk for everyone. Dr. Amy Person, the Health Officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District said normally people with underlying conditions, the elderly, and infants shouldn’t be out in the smoke due to health issues, but anyone could be impacted.

“As we see more frequent wildfires over a long period,” she said, “the prolonged exposure does have long-term damage to lungs. That means people need to not worry about today or tomorrow and more about what they are doing for their health years to come.”

Smoke from wildfires and house fires can cause numerous gases and chemicals to be released into the air. When a house catches fire and cleaning supplies, plastics and other materials burn, those chemicals are what we end up breathing in. Exactly what caught fire will determine what gases and chemicals are in smoke, but some examples include:

  • carbon monoxide
  • carbon dioxide
  • ammonia
  • sulfur dioxide
  • acids
  • oxides of nitrogen

Due to these toxins in the air, Dr. Person said everyone should stay indoors.

“If you’re inside, keep those doors and windows closed,” she said.

People should recirculate the air inside their homes and cars to ensure smoke is not getting inside. Dr. Person said air filters and air purifiers can also help clean the air. She said if you must be outside for any reason, a N95 mask is the only mask that will help you breath better.

“The masks we were to help stop the spread of COVID-19 won’t help with smoke,” she said, “You can find some industrial-grade N95 masks now that can help if you need to be outside.”

Dr. Person said you should listen to your body as well. If you start feeling dizzy, have shortness of breath, and notice you are light-headed, that is most likely a sign that your lungs are being affected. If this happens, she said to go inside and let your body recover. If you don’t start seeing an improvement in your condition once you are breathing in clean air, you should seek a medical professional.