Combatting the Risks of Wildfire Pollution

Amid the worst wildfire season in modern Canadian history, thousands of people have evacuated and so far, over 34 million acres have been burnt. With the ability to travel great distances, Canadian wildfires have brought record-breaking pollution to the United States this summer, covering cities like New York and Chicago in a cloudy, orange haze and prompting U.S. authorities to issue air quality warnings across the country.

Unfortunately, Americans and Canadians alike will continue to be affected by hazardous air quality levels, with alerts stretching from the U.S.’s Midwest through to the South, encouraging gatherings to move inside. As the effects of climate change continue to be felt in myriad ways, longer and more intense wildfire seasons are certain to be one of the most apparent.

It is no secret that minimal exposure to wildfire smoke can be dangerous to even healthy individuals. When inhaled, immediate effects include, stinging eyes, irritated sinuses, wheezing, shortness of breath, headaches, itchy skin, and coughing. In the long term, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and a decline in cognitive function have been linked to wildfire smoke.

In response to the national health and environmental crisis, the CDC encourage citizens to take precautions and prepare for the future. This includes monitoring local air quality, staying inside as much as possible if the air quality is poor, refraining from exercising outside, and investing in effective air filtration systems with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.

Indoor Threats to Well-Being

While one of the CDC’s recommendations is to stay indoors when the local Air Quality Index (AQI) is unhealthy, some sources warn that staying indoors without proper air filtration can be even more dangerous to one’s health than breathing outdoor pollution, as pollutants can infiltrate structures through multiple points of entry. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a component of wildfire smoke associated with a range of adverse health effects, were higher inside homes than outdoors during certain wildfire conditions. According to the EPA, studies suggest that, generally, indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels.

With people back in office working environments or confined to indoor spaces due to unhealthy outdoor air quality, increased awareness of the dangers of poor indoor air quality coupled with more frequent wildfire smoke has created a unique challenge for organizations of all sizes. While the public health implications of severe wildfires continue to unfold, organizations have a responsibility to not only understand the risks associated with wildfire smoke, but also how to create safe and healthy spaces for their teams, employees and visitors.

Creating Markedly Healthier Air

Research from the CDC shows that the most effective means of combatting the presence and effects of wildfire smoke is a multi-faceted strategy focused on intervention and proactivity.

Central to the intervention component is H13 True HEPA-grade air purification, which offers the most protection from a range of airborne contaminants. H13 True HEPA filtration removes 99.95% of airborne particles as small as 0.1 microns, which includes wildfire smoke’s most dangerous contaminants such as PM2.5, PAHs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Because most wildfire smoke particles are at a dangerously small size, H13 True HEPA filtration ensures powerful protection even when individuals are not aware they are at risk.

Accurately and rapidly identifying wildfire contaminant concentrations within spaces poses its own challenges as well. Due to its fluid nature, contaminated air can move across spaces putting individuals at risk. Without real-time insights into air quality within each of those spaces, leaders are unable to take specific steps to mitigate the problem.

This is where an air purification system with advanced sensors and intelligent responses can help leaders provide a truly proactive approach to air quality. By actively monitoring the air for contaminants and reacting to changes, these pioneering systems generate real-time data on air quality within the space and automatically respond to address and remove the contaminants. Ideally, an IAQ system should go a step further and share data between individual units via a networked connection, so units can coordinate proactive responses to remediate spaces at a quicker pace and continuously share data with a centralized dashboard. This level of monitoring and connection between units enables deeper insights into air quality changes across an entire building and allows purifiers to operate with maximum efficiency.

The Fellowes headquarters in Itasca, IL was also impacted by the Canadian wildfires of July 2023. The offices of Fellowes displayed remarkable readiness thanks to their newly developed state-of the-art Array networked air quality system and real-time data from Viewpoint. Despite having a real-time-monitoring and remediation AQM system and an updated HVAC system that included a dedicated outdoor air system to provide effective ventilation for even the most demanding applications, Fellowes noticed sustained higher levels of VOCs. Using insights from their digital AQM system, Fellowes was able to pinpoint the cause—their HVAC system was set to automatically pull in more outdoor air on cooler summer mornings, inadvertently drawing in smoke-laden air at a rate that surpassed any air purification system ability to remediate fast enough. Thanks to their digital monitoring system built into Array, Fellowes could identify the cause of the problem and reconfigure the HVAC system to account for this challenging air quality situation, allowing the one-two punch of HVAC and air purification to work together to improve IAQ. This example highlights Array’s capability to not only improve human wellness related to air quality but empower businesses to have greater control over how their buildings are operating and optimized.

While filtration and detection address the primary dangers associated with wildfire smoke, the ability to clearly show the impact of these measures goes a long way in delivering peace of mind for organizations and their associates. Integrating real-time air quality displays and dashboards into indoor spaces allows associates and guests to see the current air quality status and reinforces an organization’s commitment to delivering safe air for improved wellness.

Despite the growing severity of wildfires, air pollution, and their subsequent effects on health risks that warrants serious concern, there has never been more effective air purification technology available to organizations of all sizes to help manage their indoor air quality. As industry pioneers in air purification for both commercial and personal spaces, Fellowes offers a range of market-leading solutions from its newest networked system, Array, to stand-alone commercial-grade units— all with H13 True HEPA filtration and a range of innovative features to address the challenges of wildfire smoke and other common airborne contaminants.

To learn more about Fellowes’ entire suite of air quality management products and how they can help you reduce the dangers of wildfire smoke, download the brochure here: