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How California’s Wildfires Increased Demand for Air Filters

By September 10, 2019 May 4th, 2020 No Comments
11–14 minutes to read

Los Angeles Air Filtration News – Aside from wreaking havoc on homes and neighborhoods across California, last year’s historic wildfire season created toxic air conditions across the state, triggering air quality alerts and forcing residents to take refuge indoors under the protection of their air filters.

This year fires in western Canada are creating the same air quality havoc as the California fires, even affecting cities on the east coast with residual smoke air quality problems.

Although much of the public and media’s attention last year had been focused on fleeing from the fires and preventing them from spreading, experts are concerned that the dangerous air quality that accompanies wildfires—smoky air and hazy skies—aren’t being given as much attention as they should. 

Wildfires often cause poor air quality, which is a health and safety crisis in and of itself, even when the contained fires are geographically far away. Once an isolated forest fire becomes uncontrollable, it releases plumes of toxic smoke that cause anything from coughing, shortness of breath, to burning eyes. It can also cause disastrous health problems, including coughing, extreme wheezing for those with pre-existing respiratory disease, cardiovascular illness, and even cancer.

“The smoke and haze produced by wildfires are teeming with toxic particulate matter,” explained Camfil USA’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials for commercial air filters and 37-year ASHRAE member and active committee participant. “Prolonged exposure to particulate matter, or PM, is dangerous because these particles are small enough to penetrate the alveoli of the lungs, working their way into the bloodstream and vital organs of the body.”

When this happens, the risk of developing different diseases increases exponentially. 

And the problem is that the health effects of wildfires didn’t just affect Californians. Smoke and haze carrying nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which combine in the atmosphere to create soot, acid rain, and smog, can travel hundreds of miles from their source— commonly referred to in the air purifier industry as cross-state pollution. 

Why California’s Fires Created a  Long-term Indoor Air Quality Crisis

The unique conditions in the San Joaquin Valley could mean that even after the fires, which were actually happening elsewhere, are put out, residents in the area may continue to struggle with poor indoor air quality for years. 

The San Joaquin Valley’s geography and weather patterns cause smoke pollution that drifts into the valley to remain trapped there.  The heat, in turn, pushes the polluted air to the ground, preventing it from escaping. This trap is precisely what happened with the Ferguson Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fires dumping smoke into the area. 

Its effect can be likened to a clogged sink that continues to get water filled with crud, food debris, and other particles. As more smoky air enters the valley, the pollution levels become more and more concentrated. In fact, even if San Joaquin County produces less pollution than other parts of California, the combination of unique topography and climate puts their residents at a greater risk of breathing dirty air. 

The air pollution crisis is by no means limited to San Joaquin Valley. The Bay Area was also affected and issued air quality alerts due to the nearby Mendocino Complex Fire. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which oversees nine counties in the area, implored people to avoid unnecessary driving to reduce the formation of smog after air quality levels had reportedly reached unhealthy levels.

The Best Air Purifiers Capture Wildfire Pollutants

Wildfires release large amounts of airborne pollutants such as:

Direct emissions of these toxic pollutants are particularly dangerous to local residents and first responders. 

In addition, wildfires also produce carbon dioxide, which can affect radiation, cloud formation, and climate on a regional and global scale. Unfortunately, the overall trend is clear—warmer and drier weather creates the perfect environment for wildfires to spew more smoke in vulnerable lungs.

Increased Frequency of Fires Makes High Efficiency Air Filtration Systems More Important Than Ever

With the growing body of evidence suggesting that climate change is making wildfires worse, high efficiency filtration systems may soon end up becoming commonplace in homes across the country. 

It’s worth noting that in the 80s, there was an average of 140 wildfires that burned through at least 1,000 acres of land per year. This number ballooned to 250 wildfires per year between 2000 and 2012. Unfortunately, there is now evidence that the increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires is already taking a toll on the health of Americans.  

“When you are exposed to higher than average air pollution levels, your likelihood of becoming ill also increases,” said Seyffer. “In the case of wildfires, their impact on air quality can be hard to predict because of how far smoke and haze can travel.”

In fact, there is evidence tying the increase in wildfires to ambient air quality on seemingly “normal” days. While overall air quality across much of the U.S. has improved over the last three decades, states that are prone to wildfires, particularly those in the northwest, stand out for their poor air quality. In particular, a sprawling region that includes parts of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and California has higher levels of air pollution compared to the rest of the country. 

As summers now become longer, drier, and warmer due to climate change, it’s transforming forests in the western U.S. into the perfect places for roaring forest fires with increasing ferocity. And when that happens, nearly every state in the country will be at risk of being affected by cross-state pollution from upwind smoke. 

Can Air Filtration Systems Solve the Wildfire Pollution Problem?

While air filtration systems have been a massive help to homes, buildings, schools, healthcare facilities, and other organizations struggling with indoor air quality problems, air purification systems ultimately only treat the symptoms of the problem. Wildfires require deeper intervention in the form of reliable governance, regulatory action, and increased public awareness. By preventing wildfires from happening, it then mitigates their effect on air pollution. 

Still, any protection is better than no protection at all, especially in areas affected by air pollution from wildfires. Air filtration systems are ideally designed to purify the air that enters a heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system, ensuring that any outdoor pollutants are captured and removed effectively. In fact, high-efficiency particulate air filters are designed to capture more than 80  percent of airborne pollutants related to wildfires. 

Beware of Cheap Air Filters that Promise “HEPA Performance”

With the growing interest in air purification systems for buildings and commercial application, a number of manufacturers have taken advantage of the demand for air filters, releasing systems that promise to remove contaminants or offer a high level of performance. 

More often than not, these so-called air filters are underpowered, don’t work as advertised, or break down after a few weeks. Like any important investment in a home or building, an air filtration system will never come cheap. Invest in high-quality, high efficiency air filters, and be sure to work with a trusted air filter manufacturer who can recommend the best solution for a home or facility. 

At Camfil USA, we believe in protecting homes and buildings from the scourge of air pollution through high-quality products and air filtration education. To learn about the importance of protecting indoor air quality against wildfire air pollution, talk to Camfil USA. You may also explore our catalog of air filters to learn more about our product line or find a Camfil USA location near you.


Lynne Laake

Camfil USA Air Filters 

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