Half of California is covered by canopies of smoke from wildfires, some areas registering as the most polluted air on earth.
Air already registering unhealthy and hazardous grew worse in many areas of California, maintaining hazardous levels more than 100 miles from the fires. Schools have cancelled classes, parks are deserted and people have been refilling their prescriptions for asthma inhalers.
Smoke from the fires contain toxic chemicals and particulate small enough that it can get into the lungs and the bloodstream, leading to short and long-term illness. Not only is there wood burning, but homes and buildings and in those buildings there are all kinds of chemicals. Plastics, asphalt, clothes, carpets and all of that is transferred into the air.
California’s Public Health Department has issued an advisory “in burned areas with ash,” “wear a tight-fitting N95 or P100 respirator mask, gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when cleaning up ash.”
Federal Air Quality Index ratings go from 0 to 500 the lower the better. Air is considered unhealthy at 151. Very unhealthy at 201 and above 300, hazardous. Areas in Northern California have soared above 400, according to both the federal site airnow.gov and PurpleAir.com, which has monitors around the globe.
After past fires hospitals and emergency rooms have seen a spike in visits for asthma, pulmonary disease and cardiovascular problems. There’s not much people can do but to reduce exposure and stay indoors, a luxury many cannot afford.