August 4, 2023

The Effects of Wildfire Smoke on IAQ: How Air Filtration Can Help

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The Effects of Wildfire Smoke on IAQ: How Air Filtration Can Help

Hazardous wildfire smoke has been a public emergency long enough that US west coast residents are as used to the risk as are middle-American farmers accustomed to the threat of tornadoes. 

But the hazy winds and chemical odor spreading down into the Northeastern states from Canada have introduced a whole new section of the country to the annual threat of wildfires.

For years, “Seek shelter indoors and close your windows” has been public health officials’ mantra regarding wildfire smoke. And while indoor air quality during an active wildfire can be better than what’s outside, it doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy. That’s why indoor air filtration is so important.

Unlike industrial enterprises, homes, and offices have traditionally limited their use of air filtration (also called air purification and portable air cleaning) to combat only dust, pollen, tobacco smoke, and the like. But, with the proliferation of wildfires and their smoke-related particle emissions, purifying the air you breathe has become even more vital.

Wildfire Facts

According to the Congressional Research Service, wildfires are unplanned fires, including lightning-caused fires, unauthorized human-caused fires, and escaped fires from prescribed burn projects. In addition, since 2000, an annual average of 70,025 wildfires have burned nearly seven million acres a year. That amount of land is more than double the average amount burned in the 1990s, equal to 3.3 million acres. 

This is to say, US wildfires have become more frequent and widespread and have caused more damage than ever before. And there is mounting evidence that warns that the proliferation of wildfires will continue, meaning that millions of residents – even those thousands of miles away from an active wildfire – can bear its ill effects.

Wildfire and Air Quality: What’s Unhealthy About Wildfire Smoke?

Wildfire smoke is a blend of gasses and fine particles created when wood and other organic material burn. This particulate matter – so fine as to be invisible to the naked eye – gets into ears, eyes, and noses and can cause burning and itching. It also gets inhaled and can cause mild symptoms such as a runny nose and a scratchy throat. Or worse, it can aggravate pre-existing conditions such as chronic heart, lung, and respiratory diseases. It can worsen bronchitis and asthma to the point of distress. In addition, the Scripps Institution at the University of California, San Diego, published a study that found that tiny particles released in wildfire smoke are up to 10 times more harmful to humans than particles released from other sources, such as car exhaust.  

While you can’t always tell right away that you are being negatively affected by wildfire smoke that has entered your bloodstream, the following symptoms and effects of wildfire smoke  are a good clue:

Burning eyes

Coughing or scratchy throat


Sinus congestion

Runny nose

Difficulty breathing

Irregular heartbeats

Safeguarding Your Family or Workers from the Effects of Wildfire Smoke

First, defer to your area’s Air Quality Index (AQI). Developed by the US Environmental Protection Service (EPA), the AQI allows state and local government agencies to report daily air quality conditions to the public. Sensors that test air quality average the pollution information obtained from forest fires, vehicle emissions, and other pollution readings to create a simple, uniform measure of air quality.

If an AQI gets reported as unhealthy or even moderate, act accordingly. Your response should include this three-step line of defense:

Ventilation – A traditional way of dealing with unhealthy IAQ is to ventilate an area by opening doors and windows and venting mechanical devices such as fans, exhaust valves, and HVAC systems. But when outdoor pollution is the cause of poor IAQ, this is not suggested.

Source control – Close, then limit the opening of windows and doors. In summer, secure your fireplace flue. If any vents don’t need to be open, shut them. Fix any wall cracks and minimize air leaks from plumbing or electrical outlets.

Air filtration – When it comes to wildfires and air quality, indoor air cleaners are created to help reduce the concentration of particulates and filter the air to healthy levels. 

Dwellings that used portable air cleaners (in addition to employing source control) were found to have cut the amount of microscopic indoor particulate emissions by half.

According to the EPA, if you use a portable air cleaner or HEPA filtration system, select the correct size for the location space. Furthermore, choose to locate it in the area of your home or office where you spend the most time.

At AIRSInc, we help our customers manage the ill effects of wildfire smoke indoors by offering our popular AMB1 portable air cleaner model.  Please visit our website to view our complete line of HEPA filtration products. Contact us today for a free estimate from one of our experienced indoor environmental specialists.

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