Researchers discovered that smoke drifts farther from its source than was previously thought. Examining satellite data to track the movement and dispersal of smoke plumes, they found that smoke drifts at a very high altitude, eventually reaching other populated centres and interacting with other pollutants to create elevated ozone levels far from the fire source.
Previous studies had also found that fires release nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons that contribute to elevated ozone levels, but those effects were seen mostly in areas immediately surrounding to the fire. Elevated ozone levels are a major health concern, particularly in urban areas. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of negative health effects, including coughing, throat irritation and congestion in healthy people. Furthermore, ozone can also worsen symptoms of bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
Smoke Inhalation and Heart Attacks
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported evidence of a connection between fire smoke particles and acute heart disease, including cardiac arrest. Smoke particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter (known as “fine” particles) in particular were found to be associated with a short-term increased risk of cardiac arrest. The study also found an increase in emergency-department hospital visits associated with exposure to fine smoke particles from fires.
Although other studies have previously established the link between fine smoke particles and respiratory problems such as asthma, this study clarifies the link between wildfire smoke and heart disease. Specifically, the study reported a 6.9% increase in cardiac arrests during a two-month period as a result of exposure to wildfire smoke particles near Victoria, Australia. The increase was most strongly associated with men and with people more than 65 years old. Increases were also found in other forms of heart disease.
How to protect yourself from toxic fire smoke
There are precautions you should be ready to take if fires occur in your area. Here are a few suggestions to take control of the air you breathe:
Protect your indoor air. Keep windows and doors closed. If you use an air conditioner, be sure to keep the fresh-air intake closed. A high-performance air purifier for fire smoke, such as the IQAir HealthPro, will help remove smoke particles of all sizes from the indoor air. The HealthPro will also help control ozone levels. This is critical if you live in an urban area downwind (even remotely) from fires.