Minnesota is experiencing unprecedented air quality issues as smoke from Canadian wildfire drifts into our airspace. MPCA staff are predicting that we’ll see more air quality alerts until the wildfires are under control.
We’ve received a number of questions about the smoky air and how to cope with it, and we’re here to answer them.
Q: How does wildfire smoke and other air pollution affect our pets?
MPCA: A variety of studies would suggest that both indoor and outdoor air pollutants are hard on pets.
A study of dogs exposed to Mexico City’s heavy air pollution showed increased inflammation and amyloid plaques in the dogs’ brains, compared to dogs from less-polluted cities. A 2011 study found that cats that were exposed to passive smoke in homes had reduced lung functioning compared to cats living in smoke-free homes. Scientists have also linked human indoor activities (cleaning products, smoking, etc.) to carcinogens that can cause mesothelioma, bladder, lung, and nasal cancer in dogs. In another study, scientists found that one in ten cats have asthma related to indoor and outdoor air pollutants. Cats who lived with owners who smoke or burn wood were found to have severely decreased lung function.
In a study of 700 dog owners by The University of Massachusetts and the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs had a 70 percent higher chance of getting lymphoma if their owner used pesticides in their yard. In fact, approximately 33 percent of the dogs were diagnosed with canine malignant lymphoma.
Learn about wildfire smoke and animals on the American Veterinary Medical Association web site.
Q: How do the small particles in air affect the human body? What are they made of?
MPCA: Particulate matter (PM) is a term that refers collectively to various particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particle size can vary greatly, ranging from less than 0.1 microns (smaller than a single bacterium) to about 10 microns (1/7 of the diameter of a human hair).
Particles smaller than 2.5 microns, or PM2.5, can be inhaled deep into the lungs and even reach the bloodstream. The particles can accumulate in the respiratory system and cause serious health effects. Scientific studies have linked particle pollution to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses. Learn more on the Fine particle pollution web page.
Q: Will wearing an N95 or other face mask outside to do yard work help me tolerate the poor air quality?
MPCA: According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who must be outside for extended periods in smoky air may benefit from using a tight-fitting N95 mask or P100 respirator to reduce their exposure. Learn more about protecting yourself from wildfire smoke.
Q: Is there a good site with a map and information for viewing where the various forest fires are?
MPCA: Currently, wildfires in Canada are affecting Minnesota air quality. Natural Resources Canada has an interactive map of fire information. You can select options to view active fires and places where the threat of fire is high. You can find similar information for the U.S. on the Fire, Weather & Avalanche Center’s wildfire map.
Protect yourself and others
Children, elderly people, people working outside, and those with breathing conditions, heart disease, or high blood pressure are more vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality, though it can be harmful to everyone. Air pollution can aggravate heart and cardiovascular disease as well as lung diseases like asthma and COPD. People with these conditions may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, or fatigue.
Take precautions against poor air quality
- Take it easy and listen to your body.
- Take shorter walks with your pets on bad air days.
- Limit, change, or postpone your physical activity. If possible, you and your pets should stay away from local sources of air pollution like busy roads and wood fires.
- If you have asthma, or other breathing conditions like COPD, make sure you have your relief/rescue inhaler with you.
- People with asthma should review and follow guidance in their written asthma action plan. Make an appointment to see your health provider if you don’t have an asthma action plan.
- If you are considered more vulnerable to air pollution, consider wearing an N95 mask when you must be outside.
- If the effects on your health become acute, you can set up a “clean room” in your house to protect your indoor air quality and provide a place where you can breathe easy. See the EPA web page on clean rooms for more information.
- You can make a homemade air purifier with a box fan, air filters from a hardware store, cardboard, and duct tape, like a woman in Arkansas featured on National Public Radio. Instructions at the link.
Front page image courtesy of Greg Gjerdingen/Flickr