Fires Lower Outdoor Air Quality in Virginia

In much of Virginia outdoor air quality is low due to smoke particles from wildfires in Canada being brought in by the wind, reaching as far south as North Carolina. A large landfill fire in Fairfax County on June 6 also contributed to air quality declines in that area, with smoke widespread over I-95. The primary components of the smoke haze are tiny particles called PM2.5, which are less than 2.5 micrometers across. These are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs, and even be absorbed into the blood. These can cause breathing problems for people with asthma or other lung diseases, and can raise blood pressure. In some cases breathing air with high levels of PM 2.5 can cause irregular heartbeat or even heart attacks. You can check your local air quality and get information about air quality and health at AirNow. See the AirNow Guide for Particle Pollution for steps to take when air quality is low.

Children, older adults, and people with chronic diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and heart disease are more sensitive and should be especially careful. When air quality is low, try to spend less time outdoors, don’t exercise strenuously, and take breaks during outdoor activity. If you notice eye or lung irritation, go indoors. You can help protect yourself by wearing an N95 respirator while you are outside.

While indoors, keep doors and windows closed to keep outside air from coming in. You can run your HVAC fan to recirculate air through the HVAC filter and help to remove particles. If you have a room HEPA filter, these are very effective at cleaning room air. Filters with ozonizers or ionizers are not necessary, since these can generate chemicals that can irritate your lungs and eyes.

Visit our Smoke Exposure factsheet for more information on how to protect yourself from smoke in outdoors air.

Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires have been very prevalent in the news recently with the historic wildfires in California this summer. While Virginia has a much lower risk of wildfires than states on the west coast, the Virginia Department of Forestry manages over 700 wildfires a year, mostly occurring in spring and fall. As the weather cools and the leaves start to fall, the risk of wildfire will increase. Most wildfires in Virginia are started by intentional fires that get out of control, so be cautious when burning leaves and brush or setting a campfire, and follow local burn regulations. 

If you live in a wooded area, you should make a plan in case a wildfire happens nearby. You can take steps now to reduce the risk of your home being damaged, and planning ahead will help you be ready to leave quickly if your home is threatened. Plan with your family members how to keep together or contact each other if you have to evacuate and are separated. If a wildfire is burning near your home, follow the directions of local authorities if an evacuation is ordered.

While people’s homes are only rarely at risk to wildfire in Virginia, a wildfire can affect many more people due to air pollution from smoke. Smoke exposure puts people at risk for respiratory problems and has even been associated with a higher risk of heart attack. The CDC has information on how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke. The EPA has a short video showing how to make a clean room indoors by recirculating and filtering indoor air to remove smoke particles, providing clean air for the household.