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One of Colorado health officials’ recommendations for enduring the noxious smoke-plus-ozone air pollution that’s enveloped residents this summer, posted on the state’s air quality website, is to “try to move to a place with cleaner air.”
If that’s difficult for you at the moment, creating a relatively safe space inside your home may be the next best option.
The idea is to reduce the levels of tiny particulates — 2.5 microns in diameter — from the soot, ash and dust in wildfire smoke that can lead to immediate and long-term health problems such as trouble breathing, asthma attacks, and lung and heart disease.
Inhaling particulates, especially when combined with the already elevated ozone pollution along Colorado’s Front Range, is especially dangerous for children, elders and people with sensitive immune systems.
Maximizing clean air in your living space under the current climate-warming-induced conditions — 36 days in a row under air quality health alerts due to smoke and ozone — requires reversing standard procedures.
Tainted indoor air traditionally causes greater harm linked to radon, mold, dust, lead, asbestos and off-gassing from consumer products and construction materials, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials say. And better ventilation — letting outdoor air in — has been the standard remedy.
Now outdoor air is the threat.
“Obviously, you don’t want to keep your windows open. Keep everything closed up right now — common sense,” said Caryn Orr at RDS Environmental in Broomfield, an indoor air-testing firm.
Most healthy people aren’t expected to suffer more than minor and short-term health difficulties due to the heavy particulates and ozone, state health authorities say. But the effects of prolonged exposure to multiple pollutants still aren’t fully understood.
Here are steps, tips and recommendations from state, federal and private sector authorities for enduring this summer’s latest smoke-and-ozone onslaught in your home:
Use the AC to filter your air
Filter air if possible using air conditioning or evaporative coolers. These contain filters that remove some particles from the outside air before it enters your living space. Keep the AC running. But change old filters because otherwise you could make bad air worse. You can also run the fan on your home heating system, if that system is filtered, with the heat turned off. Keep any outdoor intake valves closed and make sure furnace filters are clean.
Don’t let it get too hot
Don’t close your living space too tightly if the result is sweltering heat inside, the state health department warns. Excessive heat also causes health harm.
Shut your windows at night
Be vigilant at night because smoke from wildfires tends to thicken in the darkness. Keep bedroom windows closed.
Get a HEPA filter or go DIY
Consider installing a mechanical HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtering system. If the cost is too high or you don’t want to drive to appliance stores, you can make a filter using a box fan. Attach a furnace filter — the experts in Washington state who have done this recommend a MERV-13 filter or better — to a fan using tape, bungee cords or screws. Make sure to attach the filter to the back of the fan to make sure air flows through the filter in the direction of the fan.
Cool it on the outdoor exercise
Avoid exercise or other strenuous activities outdoors in heavy smoke or ozone because breathing more means you inhale more. While the N95 masks many residents have used during the COVID-19 pandemic provide protection from smoke, these may be in short supply. The widely-used cloth face coverings offer little protection against harmful air pollutants outside because they don’t capture most small particles in smoke.
Find indoor places to visit
Try to find places to go temporarily, such as shopping malls, movie theaters or recreation centers, where air may be at least partially filtered.
Be ready to flee
Be prepared to evacuate due to heavy smoke if necessary, state health officials say. That means planning an evacuation route and destination, and packing items you can’t live without.