Wildfires in west coast states have increased over the past few decades, and are expected to grow more frequent and intense with climate change. This year, we’ve already seen an unprecedented intensity of early-season wildfires, and experts are warning of more fires and smoke to come throughout the rest of the Summer and early Fall. Much like other climate impacts, wildfire smoke is a climate justice issue and is intimately linked with racial and environmental justice– systemic marginalization and decades of racist policy have caused communities of color and low-income communities to experience greater exposure to wildfire smoke and poor air quality, disproportionately high rates of asthma and other conditions that put someone at risk, and to have fewer resources with which to adapt to smoke.
Wildfire smoke contains compounds that can harm our health– most notably, fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), which is linked with exacerbation of asthma, COPD, and other respiratory conditions and some cardiovascular conditions, among others. This is especially harmful for the elderly, children, and people with chronic illnesses; however, if the air quality is impacted past a certain level, it can affect everyone.
There are a few things you can do now to prepare for wildfire smoke, which are outlined in this article and in the following graphic. Other resources can be found through the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Washington Department of Health website (information available in English, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and Chinese), Public Health Seattle-King County, and the Washington Smoke Blog.
Some key takeaways include:
- Understanding you and your household’s risk and making a plan before wildfire season
- If you are high risk, make a plan with your primary health care provider and stock up on essential medication, including inhalers and other respiratory aids
- Utilizing AirNow, the Washington Smoke Blog, PurpleAir, Smoke Sense, or other air quality monitoring websites to stay up to date with air quality near you
- Investing in an air cleaner with a HEPA filter, or, making a DIY box fan filter (video and brochure from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Air Quality Program)
- Identifying and setting up a room in your apartment or house to act as a “clean air room”
- Investing in properly fitted N95 masks for when you have to go outside in the smoke
- Donating to or getting involved with mutual aid efforts (Subvert UD has been active in helping unhoused members of the community prepare for wildfire season)
- Speaking to and helping others in your community prepare for wildfire season
If you have any questions or would like to get more involved with climate justice work, please email email@example.com.