POULSBO — Grant Holdcroft said he started coughing as soon as he walked outside Aug. 3.
“We don’t know how long this will stick around,” Holdcroft, environmental health specialist with the Kitsap Public Health District, said of the smoke from British Columbia wildfires that has, according to some media reports, made our air quality worse than that in Beijing.
Those most affected by the high amount of particulate matter in the air are children, elderly persons and those with respiratory issues, according to Holdcroft.
Health officials measured the particulate level as PM2.5, less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter — that’s small enough to get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems. Holdcroft and his colleagues recommend reducing the number of particulates you breathe in by limiting your time outside.
“We suggest that you don’t exert yourself in this air quality,” he said. “A normal healthy adult can go outside and be OK, but it’s not something we recommend for the long term. We wouldn’t recommend doing work or exerting yourself outside if you didn’t have to.”
So what is considered “long-term?” Holdcroft said two or three days.
If you’re planning to be outside for long periods of time while the air is hazy, Holdcroft recommends investing in a filtration mask. (Similar to the filtration masks used daily by residents of Beijing and Shanghai, the masks are becoming a more decorative and fashionable, Holdcroft said. Users can even match the colors of their masks to their outfits.)
“They’re not something you will find in your pharmacy or local hardware store, but almost any industrial-type safety store should carry them,” he said.
If you experience signs of respiratory effects, stop what you’re doing and go inside. Any signs of respiratory distress, including shortness of breath, prolonged coughing, or a cough that is productive (including spit or sputum) should be checked by a health professional. If in doubt, call your doctor, Holdcroft said.
“There’s no way that we can give out medical advice without knowing the specifics,” he said.
Here are more tips from the health district:
- Stay inside if you can.
- Close windows and use air conditioning units to help keep heat down.
- Use air filtration unit to try to keep air inside the home as clean as possible.
An affordable way to filter the air in your home is to buy an inexpensive furnace filter at Walmart and fasten it to the back of a box fan. This can help filter out the dust particles in the air, according to Phil Swartzendruber of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
The Kitsap County Fire Marshal and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have issued burn bans — one, because of fire risk, another because of air quality. See www.kitsapdailynews.com/news/if-it-makes-smoke-dont-do-it.