A photo of the city of Los Angeles during sunset from a far view. The sky is very orange. The view of high-rise buildings is slightly obscured by smog and polluted air.

Protecting yourself and your loved ones from polluted wildfire air

The port communities of Wilmington and San Pedro seem to always experience poor air quality, whether they be from port-related activities or vehicle emissions. Many who live here are aware that poor air quality adversely affects the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones.   

Exposure to dirty air is one of the most salient environmental injustice issues facing our communities. After all, prolonged exposure to harmful air pollutants can result in higher rates of respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, other illnesses, and increased cases of related hospitalizations (Kampa & Castanas, 2008). These are very visible and life-altering illnesses which disproportionately burden at-risk populations in our communities, especially children and those with chronic health conditions.   

Now with the increased severity and frequency of wildfires impacting the Greater Los Angeles and Inland Empire regions, the cumulative health impacts from poor air quality is of greater concern for vulnerable groups.    

Recent wildfires, such as the Blue Ridge and Silverado fires, exacerbated the poor air quality conditions in Southern California. Even though the fires burned far from the communities of Wilmington and San Pedro, winds carried smoke and tiny particulate matter towards the harbor community and other regions. High smoke days are linked to spikes in emergency room visits for respiratory and cardiovascular issues, studies have shown (Dohrenwend, Le, Bush, & Thomas, 2013). Other studies point out the increased vulnerability of children to health effects related to smoke exposure (Holm, Miller, & Balmes, 2020) 

Despite all this, there are still important ways that you and your family can stay safe! HCBF has compiled a list of tips to help reduce preventable hospital visits due to breathing in bad air.   

  

Check your air quality   

  • It’s always important to know the quality of the air you’re breathing. The South Coast Air Quality Management District site updates hourly to give real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) data for different stations across the SoCal region. For updates on air quality in San Pedro and Wilmington, check station 4. Airnow.gov is another great site for tracking air quality. Both of these sites track concentrations of ozone and particulate matter, which are two harmful pollutants.   

Limit outdoor activity when air quality is “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or higher  

  • Spending a lot of time outdoors heightens your exposure to pollutants. High-traffic areas are worse to be around because the poor air quality is compounded by exhaust fumes from vehicles on the road. Find indoor solutions to your daily outdoor activities. If you need to be outside for a long period of time, opt for public transportation options or drive your own vehicle. And make sure to keep the windows rolled up.  

Protect the air in your home   

  • Make sure to keep the windows and doors in your home closed when air quality is poor outside. However, this may be an issue if there is poor window insulation. Investing in a portable air cleaner or installing a high-efficiency particulate air filter is a good way to make sure the air in your home stays clean. The EPA has guides for consumers looking to invest in air filtrations and cleaning systems.  

Don’t rely on dust masks or cloth masks to filter out ash and smoke   

  • Dust masks and cloth masks are useful in filtering out some pollutants. Evidence shows, however, that these masks are not the most effective and can offer a false sense of security to users. The best masks for filtering out air pollution are N95 masks, and it is good to invest in a couple for particularly bad air days. Note, however, that these can be short in supply due to the pandemic.    

Stay updated on air quality by signing up for alerts    

  • The AQMD and AirNow offer air alerts via email. Sign up here. Follow the AirAlert South Coastal LA Twitter account for social media updates. (Tip: Turn on Twitter notifications for the account after you follow to get alerts when they tweet!) In addition, you can download the AIRNow IPhone and Android apps to always have air quality information in your hands.   

Talk to your healthcare provider, especially if you already have preexisting respiratory/pulmonary conditions. 

  • If you are able to do so, speaking with your healthcare provider is important in mitigating risks to your health. This is especially pertinent if you have asthma. Your healthcare provider can help you with an asthma action plan and work on reducing indoor triggers to your asthma, such as dust mites, mold and air pollution. Caring for asthma at home is very important for children who are sensitive to air pollution. 

Get involved!  

  • There are many ways to get involved in your community when it comes to air pollution mitigation. The simplest thing to do is to spread the word to your friends and family. Sharing reputable posts (like this one!) and tips on social media or via email are great ways to do this, especially during this pandemic. Another way to do so is to reach out to your local environmental justice organizations and see what assistance they need for their outreach efforts. Finally, let your voice be heard! Join local board or government meetings and let them know your thoughts on how to mitigate wildfire smoke and particulate matter in your communities. The SCAQMD has a calendar as well as agendas for their meetings, which are all accessible via Zoom. 

This infographic was put together using information from the SCAQMD, the American Lung Association, CDC, EPA, Miller’s Children Hospital, and airnow.gov.  

Studies: 

Dohrenwend, P. B., Le, M. V., Bush, J. A., & Thomas, C. F. (2013). The Impact on Emergency Department Visits for Respiratory Illness During the Southern California Wildfires. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 14(2), 79-84. doi:10.5811/westjem.2012.10.6917 

Holm, S. M., Miller, M. D., & Balmes, J. R. (2020). Health effects of wildfire smoke in children and public health tools: A narrative review. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. doi:10.1038/s41370-020-00267-4 

Kampa, M., & Castanas, E. (2008). Human health effects of air pollution [Abstract]. Environmental Pollution, 151(2), 362-367. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2007.06.012