Heat safety

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging residents in the Great Lakes region to be prepared for wildfire smoke this summer. EPA advises everyone to stay informed about local air quality and put plans in place to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health. 

“Although big wildfires may be hundreds — if not thousands — of miles away, recent years have taught us that we need to be ready for severe smoke in the Great Lakes region,” says EPA Regional Administrator DebraShore. “Knowing what you can do to reduce smoke exposure helps families breathe easier and stay healthy.”  

Summer wildfires in the United State and Canada are becoming bigger and more frequent. Last summer, Canada experienced a record number of wildfires, producing smoke that caused unhealthy air quality and led to widespread health advisories across the Great Lakes region and the United States.

Everyone can take the following steps to safeguard themselves from smoke and air pollution during a wildfire:  

• If residents do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay indoors with closed windows, seek shelter with friends or relatives, or at a local public building with air conditioning such as a movie theater, mall, library, or local clean air shelter.

• Keep a supply of N95 or P100 respirators to wear if when going outside when air quality is unhealthy. Respirators can help prevent the inhalation of soot and fine particles in smoke.  

• Consider buying a portable air cleaner (avoid technologies that generate ozone) or make a DIY air cleaner.  

• Learn how to adjust HVAC systems or air conditioner to keep smoke out, and consider buying a high-efficiency (e.g., MERV-13) HVAC filter. 

• Replace filters according to manufacturer recommendations, typically every 60-90 days or earlier if they are heavily soiled. 

• Ensure children, older adults, pregnant people, and people with asthma or other lung or heart conditions have at least 5 days’ worth of medication and food on hand to avoid going outside.  

• People with asthma or other lung or heart conditions may consider developing a medical action plan in consultation with a healthcare provider along with an evacuation plan if heavy smoke persists for several days.  

Wildfire smoke can cause air quality to deteriorate rapidly and become unhealthy, especially for children, older adults, pregnant people, and people with heart or lung diseases. Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particulate matter that are released from burning wood and other organic materials. Fine particulate matter from wildfire smoke is the greatest health concern because it can irritate the eyes and the respiratory system worsening worsen symptoms of chronic cardiovascular disease and respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma.

Since poor air quality affects everyone, EPA encourages the public to modify outdoor activities and protect their air quality indoors too. Individuals and businesses can help by driving less, cutting energy usage and avoiding vehicle idling and outdoor fires this summer.  

For related tips, check out these 3 strategies for safe IAQ in facilities.