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Air Quality Awareness Week 2024: Wildland Fires and Smoke

In recognition of Air Quality Awareness Week 2024, we’re going to be posting one blog each day this week!


The theme for Air Quality Awareness Week 2024 is Knowing Your Air, so it’s a good start to point out that www.airnow.gov provides current air quality information across the United States.


But what do you do if you already do know the air quality, and it’s bad?


When bad air quality days hit, we’re often advised to reduce our outdoor time to reduce our exposure. But in the case of a wildfire, it can be a long time before outdoor air quality returns to normal, and in that time, the air quality inside our homes can worsen, too.


Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because prolonged exposure to elevated levels of particulates can shorten lives.


What’s an air-quality-aware person to do? For starters, close windows and doors and use your HVAC to both filter the air and to keep cool. (If you have a fresh air intake, close it; and if you can’t keep cool, go somewhere else.) If you’ve consulted with your HVAC professional to see if you can add a MERV 11 or MERV 13 filter to your HVAC system, you’re in a better spot for filtering your air. But beyond that, the EPA also indicates that you can use a portable air cleaner or a do-it-yourself air cleaner.


Portable air cleaners such as HEPA filters can reduce the concentration of contaminants by a significant amount if they are properly sized for the space they are in. What’s the proper size? The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) recommends shopping for an air cleaner whose tobacco smoke Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR, measured in cubic feet per minute or cfm) is at least two thirds the area of the room whose air you are cleaning (measured in square feet). Some air cleaners that advertise suitability for a particular square footage may not conform to this rule, so if you want a properly-sized unit, the key figure to shop by is CADR.


If the off-the-shelf air cleaners on the market are too pricey, you can also consider building one or more do-it-yourself (DIY) air cleaners. The EPA’s site points to information on how to use one filter or two filters along with a fan to build a DIY air cleaner. You can also use four filters to build a DIY air cleaner called a Corsi-Rosenthal box. These DIY air purifiers can often achieve CADR figures that are competitive with off-the-shelf air cleaners, but without paying off-the-shelf prices.


One knock-on benefit of increased indoor air filtration is that it can also remove viruses from the air. CDC indicates that both HEPA filters and DIY air cleaners can reduce exposure to potentially infectious aerosols.


Be sure to catch us tomorrow for our next topic, Asthma and Your Health.

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