What is your role, and how does a state health department work with the public during a smoke event?
My role is to work with local health jurisdictions and with K-12 schools. I do indoor air quality education and work to ensure improved ventilation during wildfire and smoke events.
When you work with schools about IAQ, what are the most important messages you want the schools to know?
It’s unusual for us to have serious wildfire smoke while k-12 school is in session, however we’ve had two recent episodes – one in 2012 and one again in 2015 that have been bad.
In terms of specific messages, if the smoke is severe, we encourage schools to turn off their air conditioner, which stops bringing in outside air. We’re also trying to encourage better filtration of their air intake. Normally, you’re bringing in outside air on a regular basis, which dilutes the indoor air and keeps the CO2 levels down.
We also recommend a MERV 8 or higher filter, particularly with a deeper pleat so you can actually clean and filter the air as it’s brought into the building. For sensitive populations, we recommend using a properly-sized air filter to improve the air.
We’ve also developed an activities guide for schools that talks about when to limit outdoor activities when PM 2.5 readings are high. (Click here to see the guide – it’s in the Air Quality section) The guide was heavily used last year because the wildfires were still burning in August, when outdoor sports were starting up. This mean a lot of student athletes were impacted. The guide has been out for a couple of years now, we send it out to the school nurses regularly.
What are some of the specific measures that Department of Health recommends people take to protect themselves?
- Follow the activities guide in terms of outdoor activity and other steps listed on the document.
- Pay special attention to sensitive populations.
- As one nurse said, it would be great if we could remind parents that their children should always have their inhaler with them during these episodes. Parents should also notify their school’s nurse if their child has particular problems with smoke.