Minnesota Air Quality and West Coast Wildfires
The western United States has experienced a high number of wildfires this season. Fires have burned or continue to burn in California, Oregon and Washington state to Arizona, Colorado and particularly Idaho. The west coast fire damage certainly won’t reach the Midwest, but can California wildfires impact Minnesota air quality? Recent studies say they can.
While the fires may be contained or even out in many fire perimeters, the danger of health risks continue for numerous residents in the path of the resulting smoke from the smoldering hot spots.
Wildfire smoke can pose serious health risks to people hundreds of miles away from the sources of fires, according to Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Health and Environment Program.
In a recent report that Knowlton conducted for the NRDC, it stated that wildfire smoke already clouds the skies of millions of Americans and climate change will fuel more wildfires, increasing that danger.
The health risks that could arise from exposure to wildfire smoke include asthma attacks, pneumonia and other serious chronic lung diseases, according to Knowlton’s report—which is entitled: “Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke.” The report encourages people in the path of the smoke—which includes Minnesota–to take action to protect themselves.
Families can lessen the health risks from smoke by staying indoors or limiting outside physical activity, Knowlton said. You can keep smoke levels low inside the house by closing the windows and running the air conditioner on recirculate.
Having your house’s duct work checked for leaks that could allow smoke to come indoors is also good preventative maintenance. A fall check up of your system can help determine if it is vulnerable.
The report, which listed Minnesota among 21 states that were affected by wildfires (although the state was not among the most affected states), was based on smoke data from the 2011 wildfire season. The study determined that the area affected by smoke is 50 times greater than the area burned by fire. In fact, among the top 20 most affected states, six with no major fires nonetheless had to cope with more than a week of medium- to high-density smoke conditions during the year.
To date in 2013, there have been more than 40,000 fires in the U.S. covering in excess of four million acres. And with wildfire season still going, Minnesotans are likely in the path of those wildfires’ smoky residue.
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