November 8, 2016 - Hamilton County, TN – The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department and the Air Pollution Control Bureau offer residents and visitors suggestions to protect themselves against the ongoing wildfire smoke. Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases and microscopic fine particles that can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs, and they can aggravate preexisting health conditions.
The following sensitive populations should limit their outdoor activities:
• People with preexisting conditions such as respiratory infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and those who have had a previous heart attack or stroke.
• Infants and young children (especially 7 years or younger) – Children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults and are more active outside.
• Older adults (over 65 years) – An elderly person’s lungs are not as efficient as they were when they were younger.
• Smokers – Smoking tobacco damages the lungs, breathing forest fire smoke only increases this damage.
Wildfire smoke may have the pleasant odor of campfire smoke, but breathing any smoke is not good for you, especially over a period of time. The current fires may continue to pollute the air for some time to come. The following protections apply now or in the future:
• Monitor the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau’s (APCB) Air Quality Index and stay alert to official information.
• Avoid the areas where the wildfires are currently happening. Current fire locations according to Tennessee Division of Forestry (burnsafetn.org). Crews are working in these areas to contain the blazes. Be aware that areas not directly affected by the fires can still be affected by smoke.
• Plan ahead – Smoke irritation can grow worse over minutes to hours, so while it may not bother you when you first walk outside, the irritation could become worse as you continue to be exposed.
• Stay indoors if possible - Keep indoor air as clean as possible, close windows and doors and run the heat or AC, close the outside air intakes. Use recycled air in your vehicle.
• Avoid making the indoor situation worse by limiting fireplaces, candles, gas stoves, and smoking. Vacuuming also stirs up dust.
• Prevent wildfires from starting. Do not throw lit cigarettes or cigars out of car windows. Currently there is a burn ban over most of our region.
• Talk with your doctor about leaving the area if the smoke continues or becomes worse. Make the best decision for your health.
• “Dust masks” from hardware stores and bandanas do not provide adequate protection against the fine particles in wildfire smoke. According to the CDC, an “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. Even when properly fitted and worn correctly, N95 respirators can make breathing more difficult and increase your heart rate, so any use by those with heart or lung disease should be done under your healthcare provider’s supervision.
• The effects on pets and livestock are similar to humans. Consider limiting activity, reducing exposure, and ensuring adequate drinking water. Contact your veterinarian if they are having difficulty breathing.
• Heed warnings and evacuations issued by the fire department and get out of the path of wildfires. Prepare your “Go Bag” now. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.
For more information, visit the following resources:
• Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, 423-643-5970
• Wildfires, CDC.gov/disasters/wildfires
• Hamilton County Emergency Management & Homeland Security Facebook page, for current local fire information
• How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health, AirNow.gov
• Home and Family Emergency Planning, HamiltonReady.org
• Build Your “Go Bag” (Disaster Supplies Kit), Ready.gov/kit