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How Wildfires Are Affecting Your Air

By August 14, 2018 May 4th, 2020 No Comments
13–15 minutes to read

How High Efficiency Air Filters Keep People Safe During – and After – Wildfires

Wildfires can cause intense air pollution that lasts for months and requires the use of high efficiency commercial air filters and portable commercial air purifiers

Wildfires are dangerous enough due to the flames that can damage landscapes and homes, but they can also contribute to deadly air pollution. The combustion of biofuels, things like wood, grasses, shrubs, and forbs, can release a wide variety of toxic air pollutants including black carbon and particulate matter. Wildfire flames can also release dangerous chemicals like benzenes and other volatile organic compounds. Depending on the conditions of the weather and geography of the landscape where the fire took place, these air pollutants can hang around for long, protracted periods of time, doing continual damage to the health of people in the region.

Because the pollutants released by wildfires can be so dangerous it is important to know what the pollutants are, how they can harm you, and what steps you can take to protect yourself from them.

Commercial High Efficiency Air Filtration Units Can Trap A Variety of Toxic Air Pollutants

The combustion of biofuels can easily release particulate matter and carbon in the form of soot and smoke. When wildfires burn hot enough they can also lead to the formation of compounds like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. These compounds can do substantial damage to people’s health when inhaled.

Volatile organic compounds include things like benzenes and methanol. These compounds can be formed by the burning of soil or biofuels, fusing together different chemicals in a way that is similar to how industrial facilities release these compounds as byproducts. Many volatile organic compounds are precursors to ozone. When ozone is in the upper atmosphere, it’s a beneficial chemical that shields us from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Yet at ground level, ozone is a toxic air pollutant that damages people’s lungs.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are colorless air pollutants which can be released by wildfires as they combust sulfur containing soil or biofuels. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide not only harm people’s lungs, they contribute to acid rain and the damaging of water tables.

“Particulate matter refers to a number of different small particles of various chemical compositions. The only requirements that exist for particulate matter are that the particles are small enough to penetrate the human lungs and bloodstream, doing damage to the cells of the body,” stated Camfil’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials and 37-year ASHRAE member and active committee participant. “Particulate matter can be either liquid or solid, and the most critical sizes are smaller than 2.5 microns in size, or smaller than the width of a human hair. Because so many different particles can count as particulate matter, it should be no surprise that wildfires can release large amounts of particulate matter pollution. Small particles of soot, smoke, and dirt can all be sent into the air by wildfires.” ¹

High Efficiency HVAC Air Filters Can Prevent Health Damage from Wildfires

Exposure to the air pollutants released by wildfires can cause different respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. The particles of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and other forms of particulate matter can cause the development of many different diseases and conditions like asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and decreased lung function. High efficiency HVAC air filters can protect people from developing these ailments.

Volatile organic compounds are harmful to human health. VOCs like benzenes are known carcinogens, which increase people’s risk of developing cancer. Ground level ozone is also dangerous to human health. Exposure to air pollution can exacerbate asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. High-levels of ozone can also cause difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing. Continuous exposure to ozone may also cause permanently reduced lung function.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide exposure can lead to headaches, difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing in high concentrations. Continuous exposure to nitrogen dioxide may be responsible for the development or exacerbation of conditions like asthma. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide can also increase the lung’s susceptibility to respiratory infections, making the development of conditions like pneumonia more likely.

“Particulate matter exposure is extremely damaging to people’s health,”Seyffer said. “PM exposure can lead to the development of a variety of different health problems because it can damage the cells of the lungs. PM exposure can lead to conditions like asthma, stroke, ischemic heart disease, obstructive pulmonary disorder, and an increased risk of developing lung cancer.”²

Commercial Air Filtration Systems Become More Necessary As Wildfires Burn

In terms of the amount of air pollution released by wildfires, wildfires can easily dwarf the amount of air pollution released by even substantial sources of air pollution like cars in California. A report released by the University of California, Davis found that a week’s worth of the air pollution caused by the 2017 fires in California released enough air pollution to rival a year’s worth of air pollution released by the cars in the state.

“The wildfires that ravaged the state of California in 2017 released approximately 10,000 tons of particulate matter into the air,” stated Seyffer. “The particulate matter released by the fires consisted of not only carbon released by the combustion of biofuels but also many hazardous volatile organic compounds released by the burning of chemical containers and buildings.” ³

The sheer amount of air pollution that is released by wildfires can send people to the hospital, and the State of California had more hospitalizations in 2017 during the wildfires than at other times of the year. Those who are uniquely sensitive to air pollution like children, the elderly, and pregnant women should be especially careful to guard themselves against air pollution.

The pollution from wildfires may stay in a region for weeks on end, depending on the geography and weather in the area. Mountains may make air pollution stay in an area, trapping the particles in a valley between them, such as often happens to air pollution in California’s central valley. Weather patterns can also prevent particles of air pollution from dispersing, cold air inversions can trap air in a bowl above a region, and summer heat can exacerbate air pollution by turning the VOCs released by fire into smog and ozone.

Commercial Air Purifiers Can Defend Against Air Pollution and Smoke

The dangers involved in being exposed to air pollution means that people should use portable commercial air purifiers to protect their health from dangerous air pollutants. Portable air purifiers are those which can be used in a home and provide extra protection against air pollutants. Portable air purifiers should be placed in rooms where you spend most of your time, like the living room during the day or in your bedroom while asleep.

Be sure to purchase portable commercial air purifiers that use replaceable filters. Avoid portable air purifiers that use ozone generators and avoid electrostatic precipitators, as these devices don’t effectively trap air pollutants and they may generate ozone as a byproduct of their operation.

Traditional filters in HVAC systems may be inadequate for filtering out the toxic air pollutants released by fires, and therefore portable air purifiers should be used to augment the filtering capabilities of traditional HVAC systems. Portable air purifiers can be especially helpful to those who have special sensitivities to air pollution.

HEPA Air Filters Can Trap Particulate Matter

Portable air purifiers and air filtration systems should utilize industrial level HEPA air filters. HEPA filters, or High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters, are capable of trapping the dangerous particulates that are spewed into the air by wildfires.

Industrial HEPA filters can capture up to 99.97% of all particulate matter down to 0.3-micron across. HEPA filters have tight fiber weaves that are responsible for trapping air pollutants within the filter while the filtered air moves on. The more pollutants that a filter can capture, the tighter the weave of the filter. If you have purchased a HEPA filter, be sure that it actually meets the standards developed by the Department of Energy, as some filters are referred to as “HEPA-type,” though they can’t actually remove the smallest and most dangerous particles from the air.

Camfil USA commercial air filters can provide you with the filters you need to protect you from the emissions generated by wildfires. Contact Camfil USA air filters today to purchase high quality replacement filters guaranteed to minimize your exposure to pollutants.


Lynne Laake

Camfil USA Air Filters

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