How Wildfires Harm Indoor Air Quality

For the past several years, news footage of raging wildfires in the pacific northwest and America’s southwest have become commonplace—and those wildfires have moved into Canada, as well as neighboring states of affected areas. The increase in wildfires are cause for concern as they create pollution that can compromise respiratory systems and even spread COVID-19.

According to the Climate Prediction Center, the wildfire season has extended to all year round, with drier conditions in arid states and shifts in climate brought about by global climate change. There are hotter overall temperatures, which create drought conditions and provide more kindling in a vicious cycle of burning and re-burning.

That, in turn, is creating significant spikes in air pollution. In fact, according to a recent study published by the journal Geohealth, wildfire smoke now accounts for more than half the air pollution measured annually in the Western region. Worse, the pollution caused by the wildfires isn’t just smoke created by wood and tinder.

As the wildfires have spread, they encompass populated areas, with fire consuming houses filled with furniture, electronics, carpeting, and other things that emit volatile organic compounds and toxic chemicals when burned. Indeed, a study by the California Air Resources Board found high levels of lead and other metals were present in smoke from wildfires.

Luke Montrose, an Assistant Professor of Community and Environmental Health at Boise State University’s Hazard and Climate Resilience Institute, warns that levels of lead in the air is linked to elevated blood pressure in adults and developmental issues in children, based on long-term exposure. What’s more, he notes a 2018 wildfire caused the poisonous air to travel more than 150 miles, showing that more than immediate areas were at risk.

This travel, according to Montrose has additional implications. “The distance affects the ability of smoke to “age,” meaning to be acted upon by the sun and other chemicals in the air as it travels,” he says. “Aging can make it more toxic. Importantly, large particles like what most people think of as ash do not typically travel that far from the fire, but small particles, or aerosols, can travel across continents.”

Smoke from wildfires contains thousands of individual compounds, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. The most prevalent pollutant by mass is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, roughly 50 times smaller than a grain of sand. Its prevalence is one reason health authorities issue air quality warnings using PM2.5 as the metric.”

While the smoke from wildfires can compromise the respiratory systems of people in affected areas, there’s another issue, given the lingering effects of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. According to researchers, the smoke from these wildfires may also increase the risks of contracting COVID-19. Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonary physician at the University of Utah, says a combination of particulate matter found in the smoke from wildfires suppresses a person’s natural immune system, making people more susceptible to the coronavirus. What’s more, people who already had COVID-19 may develop additional long-term conditions that put them at greater risk of lung and breathing problems during upcoming wildfire seasons.

So how would someone get a permanent fix for a vexing problem? Using HEPA filters in existing HVAC systems typically isn’t a good solution since such filters may offer too much resistance on the system’s blower, actually causing a downgrade in airflow and circulation.

Instead, one ideal solution involves outfitting indoor spaces with commercial-grade Fellowes air purifiers. Our line of AeraMax Pro air purifiers have a unique four-stage True HEPA filtration system that effectively and efficiently removes up to 99.97 percent of PM2.5 airborne contaminants, like residual smoke from wildfires, as well as dust, germs, allergens, bacteria, viruses and more from indoor spaces.

Using an array of patented self-regulating sensors, Fellowes Air Purifiers automatically monitor a room to know when a room’s air needs cleaning, leveling up to meet demand and leveling back down when the airborne threat is eliminated. Best yet, the units work to clean a room of other airborne contaminants even when there is no environmental crisis, offering occupants clean, fresh air continually.