Wildfires continue to wreak havoc on our precious land, causing untold destruction each year. While the ramifications of such disasters are immediate to our land, there are equal consequences to the air we breathe. Fires impact not only outdoor air quality but also indoor air quality. As we face the consequences of these intense fires, there are steps that we can take to mitigate the risk of breathing in the hazardous air they create.
Beyond the Blaze: The Impact of Wildfires
Every summer, we see the severe effects of wildfires, particularly in Western states. And the problem only seems to be getting worse. In fact, though the overall number of annual wildfires has decreased, the acreage of land burned has tripled since the 1990s. The environmental impact of these fires is obvious: forests are destroyed, animals lose their homes and lives, and smoke fills the sky. But these fires can also affect the air we breathe — even thousands of miles away.
This wildfire season, we are seeing the ill effects all the way on the East coast. We’ve seen hazy skies filled with smoke from fires in the west, and this smoke carries with it air particles that can be dangerous to inhale. We even received an “unhealthy” air quality alert in Massachusetts at the end of July, and our indoor air quality (IAQ) results at Erlab spiked to over 1,000% in one day, increasing our exposure to limits far above our normal readings.
Over time, exposure to a build-up of these air particles will impact our short- and long-term health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, effects of particle inhalation “[can range] from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases.” Even more concerning, particulates in the air may become transporters for viruses, increasing our risk of transmitting viruses such as COVID-19.
Those who deal with underlying health issues such as asthma and COPD are significantly impacted and such a spike in pollution will undoubtedly increase the severity of their illness, leaving some to rely on an increase of medications or frequent nebulizations.
Conflicting Guidelines Due to COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies
We are living in a time of overlapping crises; as wildfires rage on, so does COVID-19. As we take steps to reduce viral transmission, we may be inviting air polluted by wildfires into our facilities.
The current guidelines introduced by the CDC and ASHRAE to mitigate aerosolized viral transmissions are, in theory, great solutions — but we should explore their overall effects, not just on COVID-19 transmission. Guidelines include:
- Increase Outside Air (OA) to 100%, brought into the facility
- Increase the total amount of air changes (how many times per hour the air is replenished)
- Improve HVAC filters to at least MERV 13 filters
The problem with these guidelines? Increase of OA brought into the facility. The quality of the air we bring into our facilities has serious repercussions on our overall health, especially in heavily polluted environments or when the air is filled with smoke from wildfires. The same air that is meant to aid in the dilution of viral particles is actually polluted, creating a much more harmful environment. It increases the overall particle load in the air, increasing the risk of viral transmission and weakening our immunity and respiratory tracts. So what can we do to decrease particle loads in our facilities, protecting ourselves and others from the effects of viruses and wildfires alike?
Air Pollution By the Numbers
Whether you’re looking to reduce hazardous particles caused by wildfires or viral particles that can cause illness, your first step should be the same: ensure your facility has proper air filtration.
With the right air filtration technology, you can:
- Filter our viral particles to mitigate transmission
- Improve dilution of air particles
- Increase air change rates
- Reduce the buildup of particles created by wildfires from increasing or existing outside air brought into your facility
Erlab is an expert in air filtration. Our Halo air purification stations are proven to reduce particle loads and increase the safety of the air you breathe. Let’s take a look at some recent data.
At the end of July, as wildfires blazed on the west coast, smoke traveled all the way to Erlab’s facility in Massachusetts, allowing us to measure the impact on the air inside and outside. Here were the results.
|Particle Size (Microns)||0.3||0.5||1.0||2.5||5||Totals|
|Total Counts: 07/19/2021||23,648,682||1,264,088||334,030||242,931||14,830||25,504,561|
|Total Counts: 07/20/2021||457,699,776||37,301,920||1,406,733||255,706||27,195||496,691,330|
The numbers speak for themselves. In this two-day period, the outdoor air showed an overall particulate increase of 1,847% as a result of wildfires. A facility inviting this outdoor air inside without proper ventilation and filtration would see a similar increase of particulate matter inside their facility, resulting in serious health risks for the people inside.
Now, let’s see what the numbers were inside Erlab, with our Halo filters.
|Particle Size (Microns)||0.3||0.5||1.0||2.5||5||Totals|
|Total Counts: 07/19/2021||12,105,183||595,493||42,031||16,954||2,119||12,761,780|
|Percent Indoor Air Particle Load Reduction||49%||53%||87%||93%||85%||50%|
|Total Counts: 07/20/2021||296,365,792||19,960,516||455,550||76,984||24,367||316,883,209|
|Percent Indoor Air Particle Load Reduction||35%||46%||68%||70%||10%||36%|
These results were taken from our facility operating our Halo air filtration systems. You can see the impact of continuous accumulation of these particles; the HVAC system was on for most of the day due to the summer heat, and it was bringing in 50% OA. Though the air purifiers are doing a great job, as shown by the average reduction of 36% compared to outdoor air, these results also outline the significant impact wildfires have on our general outdoor and indoor air quality and why it is so important to address this very concerning issue.
With an effective air purifier operating 24/7, and with proper directional airflow patterns, the accumulation and propagation of particles are dramatically reduced. To complement the reduction of these harmful particles, the air purifier is also reducing any possible viral load concentration, addressing both issues: wildfire pollution and virus transmission. The system is improving the air we breathe and our overall health.
Taking Steps Toward Safe, Breathable Air
What can you do to improve the IAQ in your facility? Start by evaluating your building’s unique needs. Are your HVAC system and filters up to the job? How much OA are you taking in — and is that air causing additional problems? Once you have a complete understanding of your facility, you can evaluate appropriate next steps.
Start by reducing the OA intake to minimize the amount of environmental pollution entering the facility. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to invest in the right air filtration technology. We strongly recommend HALO by Erlab, which will help with:
- Proper directional airflow pattern, drawing contaminated air up and away from occupants
- Increased equivalent air changes per hour
- Advanced large capacity H14 HEPA filters or Carbon filters with over 3sq’ of filtration media
- Independent self-sustainable permanent solution; Effective, environmentally-friendly, and cost-effective.
- Low maintenance with an average filter life range of 4 years
Wildfires are continuing to rage, and your facility needs protection. If you’re ready to mitigate the effects of the environment and viruses alike, reach out to us. We’ll help you determine whether HALO by Erlab will suit your facility’s needs.