How to protect your family from bushfire smoke

We are all experiencing the effects of the devastating bush fires around Australia, and our air quality is worrying to say the least. Read on to find out what you can do to minimise the risks to you and your loved ones.

Do masks help?

There are two main particles in our air right now that are having health impacts on so many of us. [1]

  • PM10 particles (with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less) are small enough to enter the lungs
  • PM2.5 particles (with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less) are small enough to get deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

PM2.5 particles are small enough to pass right through the paper masks we buy off the shelf, and they can pass through handkerchiefs and cloth. The only effective mask to stop these particles is called a P2 mask, but it needs to be fitted properly so you have a complete seal to your face. If there is no seal, looking at you beard wearers, even this mask won’t help. [2]

Steps to minimising risk

So, if masks aren't going to do the trick, we need to take other steps where practical.

  • Stay indoors as much as possible with the doors and windows shut and set the air con to stop taking in outside air and just recirculate the inside air. For those of us concerned by the electricity bill, and short of hanging a bag of ice in front of your fan, you can block out some heat by closing the blinds or curtains, setting your fan to turn counter clockwise on the highest setting speed, (if you have this setting) to push the air down and create a wind chill effect. [3]
  • Work from home if that's an option
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities
  • Use door snakes to stop outside air flowing in
  • Stay hydrated to flush out your system
  • Don't touch your face or mouth after touching surfaces
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Make people aware if you are having difficulties
  • For those who already have respiratory and/or circulatory issues, keep your medications close and update your management plan
  • Invest in an air purifier.

Do air conditioners and purifiers remove smoke particles?

As long as air conditioner filters are regularly cleaned, much of the outside particles will be trapped before they get into the house, but they were not designed to purify the air [3], and can cause problems for those with respiratory concerns. [4]

Air purifiers were designed to do just that. A well-maintained air purifier will remove 99.7% of particles from the air. [5]

Looking after your plants

The particles from the bushfires will still be coating your furniture, and cars and plants well after those fires are extinguished. Despite watching the film of dust reform on the spot you just wiped, it is important to still wash as much off as you can and don't let it build up. This applies to your plants as well.

  • Wash or wipe their leaves regularly so that the dust doesn't form a barrier preventing light reaching the leaves, which is essential for photosynthesis [6].
  • Put a few drops of milk in the water will give them a shine. No more than a few drops because you won't enjoy the smell of souring milk all through the house.
  • If you're altering your usual air flow to combat this dust, consider how the change in temperature and moisture in the air will affect the soil. You may need to adjust your watering schedule.
  • If you are changing the usual amount of light the plant is used to, you may have to reposition them.

Where can I go to check air quality?

This smoke is affecting all of us, so please look out for each other, share these tips on social media, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women, children and those with chronic disease should take extra care.

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/air/Pages/particulate-matter.aspx [1]

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/blog/do-face-masks-protect-you-from-bushfire-smoke [2]

https://homeairguides.com/air/10-ways-for-how-to-protect-yourself-from-wildfire-smoke/ [3] [5]

https://iaqscience.lbl.gov/cc-ac [4]

http://cdn.intechweb.org/pdfs/18642.pdf [6]

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