As destructive wildfires persist — burning thousands of acres of land and filling the air with acrid smoke — millions of Northern California home and business owners are met with an air pollution nightmare. Smoke and soot from the widespread wildfire increase levels of particulate matter concentration, plummeting indoor and outdoor air quality.
Knowing the different levels of air quality and the health implications associated with each level is imperative to protecting yourself and your loved ones from the hazardous effects of wildfire pollution.
Spoor’s Heating & Air Conditioning provides high-quality HVAC repair and maintenance services to help homes and businesses achieve and maintain healthy air quality throughout wildfire season.
Contact us to schedule an indoor air quality (IAQ) inspection.
What Is The Air Quality Index (AQI)?
The federal government uses the Air Quality Index (AQI) to communicate the levels of air pollution and associated health effects with the public. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the AQI focuses on health effects that individuals may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. The AQI is calculated based on five environmental air pollutants — ground-level ozone, particle pollution or particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide — and divides each level of pollution into six levels. Of these pollutants, the EPA regards ground-level ozone and airborne particulates as the two most hazardous types of contamination.
How Is The AQI Measured?
AQI measurements range from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of environmental pollution and concern for public health. For example, while an AQI value of 50 projects satisfactory air with little to no health risks, AQI values hovering between 150 to 200 — as recently reported in Northern California —- can cause adverse health effects in healthy individuals. The EPA divides each classification of AQI into the following six categories.
An AQI range of 0 to 50 indicated satisfactory air quality. At this level, the amount of air pollution poses little to no risk to health, for both individuals in good health and for those more sensitive to environmental pollutants. There are no precautions recommended for this AQI level. Northern California regions typically fall within this range of AQI during wildfire inactivity.
Moderate AQI measurements range from 51 to 100. At this level, air quality is acceptable, but certain types of pollutants may pose a moderate health concern to a small portion of individuals. Those who are extremely sensitive to highly hazardous pollutants, such as ground-level ozone, may experience respiratory problems with moderate AQI.
Individuals who are unusually sensitive to pollutants should consider reducing the amount of time spent outdoors to prevent worsening health issues or ailments from pollutant-exposure.
Unhealthy For Sensitive Groups (101–150)
AQI that is unhealthy for individuals who are sensitive to pollutants range from 110 to 150. The general public may not experience adverse health effects by this index rating. However, older adults, those with heart and/or lung disease, and children are at greater risk for adverse health effects from ozone exposure and airborne particulates.
Recommended actions to protect against adverse health effects warn that individuals with health disease or lung disease as well as children should avoid all outdoor physical activity.
An “unhealthy” index measurement ranges between 151 and 200. At this AQI level, the general public and sensitive groups may begin to experience severe health effects. In addition, individuals who are highly sensitive to pollutants may experience worsened health effects. As the most current AQI rating in Northern California, it’s important that those with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged exposure to or heavy exertion while outdoors.
To protect your indoor air from exposure to pollutants, contact us to schedule ac repair and indoor air quality service.
Very Unhealthy (201–300)
“Very unhealthy” AQI has a numerical value ranging from 201 to 300 and constitutes a health warning of emergency conditions. At this level, the entire population is likely to be affected by the severe degree of environmental pollution. At this level, there is an increasing aggravation of preexisting conditions as well as risk of premature death to those with heart or lung disease and the elderly. The general population may experience increased respiratory effects. The overall population, as well as those who are affected by these conditions, should avoid prolonged outdoor exposure as well as any heavy exertion while outdoors.
An AQI measurement between 301 to 500 constitutes the most hazardous degree of pollution. Every person may experience the development of severe adverse health effects, including respiratory effects and even premature mortality. Individuals who are unusually sensitive to pollutants and those with preexisting conditions may experience rapid worsening or declination of health. At this level, it’s recommended that every person avoid outdoor exposure. To prevent contamination to indoor air, it’s imperative that North California home and business owners maintain high indoor air quality — contact us today to schedule an inspection for determining the quality of your indoor air.
How Does Poor Air Quality Affect Your Health?
Wildfire smoke, soot, and ash contain complex combinations of organic chemicals, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, water vapor, nitrogen oxides, and trace minerals. The main health hazard regarding wildfire pollution is particulate matter. Because these particles are so small and light, they typically populate the air for a greater amount of time than larger and heavier pollutants. This results in a greater likelihood of exposure by breathing in the particulates, which can cause health issues for healthy people, such as difficulty breathing, persistent cough, wheezing, as well as severe heart and lung damage. Even short-term exposure to particle pollutants can aggravate pre-existing heart and lung disease.
While exposure to poor air quality from the Northern California wildfires occurs most frequently outdoors, your indoor air may also be at risk for pollution. Pollutants and particulates from the wildfires can coat the outer component of your HVAC unit, causing the internal components to clog. Blockages and clogs in a heating and cooling system can result in the system working overtime to cool or warm the indoor air, making the unit more likely to halt function entirely. What’s more, is that outdoor airborne particulates can be pushed indoors through the HVAC system despite regular air filter replacements, making the indoor air highly dangerous for you and your loved ones.
How To Protect Yourself From Wildfire Pollution While Outdoors
During AQI index ratings of 150 or higher, Northern California residents are advised to remain indoors and prevent excessive exposure to outdoor air. This specifically applies to sensitive groups as well as older adults and children. However, individuals who spend time outdoors — whether to run errands and go shopping, to go to work, or even to take your kids to school — can benefit from taking precautions while they are exposed to polluted outdoor air. To reduce your exposure to outdoor pollutants and airborne particulates while outdoors, its advised that individuals avoid relying on items such as dust masks for adequate protection. The EPA notes that “paper comfort or dust masks are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from small particles such as PM2.5. Scarves or bandanas won’t help either.”
A more adequate alternative to these disposable masks is to use a disposable respirator. These filtering facepiece respirators are entirely comprised of filtering material — N95 respirators are used in healthcare settings to protect against inhalation of infectious bacteria, while P100 respirators are commonly used to protect against toxic dust, such as asbestos and lead. The most important aspect of protecting yourself from high levels of air pollution while outdoors is to ensure proper application and use of the respirator. Preventing prolonged exposure to outdoor air with a high AQI rating is key to maintaining your health during wildfire season. Limit time spent outside and schedule a consultation with an HVAC company to ensure your indoor air is appropriately sealed and protected from exposure to harmful outdoor air particulates.
How To Improve Indoor Air Quality During Wildfire Season
The presence of heavy wildfire smoke throughout Northern California contains the particulate matter of every burned item and structure from which it was created, resulting in toxic fumes. In addition to posing severe hazards to health, wildfire smoke causes widespread odors that can seep into the structures of home and businesses throughout the state.
To alleviate the pungent odors from smoke, many individuals turn on the air conditioner. While the free-flow of air from your air conditioner may dissipate malodorous interiors, it will not provide you or others within the structure with adequate protection against airborne contaminants.
Extremely tiny airborne particulates easily bypass poorly insulated doors, windows, and other types of entryways. These pollutants can bypass the filter within your HVAC system, as the filter is designed to only absorb larger and heavier types of pollutants.
Spoor’s Heating and Air Conditioning understands the harmful and devastating effects caused by wildfires. We are dedicated to helping homeowners and business owners throughout the NorCal region protect themselves against the adverse health effects caused by these fires.
Our HVAC repair company can install and provide maintenance to a wide range of IAQ systems to optimize indoor air quality. We can install a whole-home or whole-business air purifier to effectively absorb airborne particulates and bacteria. Additionally, our air purifiers prevent pungent odors from circulating indoors. For those who want more out of their air filters, we can install media filters, which provide increased filtering capability compared to regular air filters. For more information about the IAQ services we provide or to schedule services to maintain a pollutant-free unit and structure, contact us today.