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You might have heard about fires ravaging Northern California. You can see them on the map here. As our air quality across the whole Bay Area (this is the picture I just took in our backyard on a sunny day) is unhealthy, I wanted to send a few quick tips on how to protect your health. And if you are not in Northern California, you might benefit from this information, too, because outdoor and indoor air pollution is bad for some people every day.
The EPA monitors air quality and assigns an index number to it. You can access it here. Type your zip code, and you will get your air quality report instantly.
I think it is important to understand that the smoke in the air includes particles and gasses. All smoke contains ash and soot, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Smoke also contains very harmful chemicals such as aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals, and dioxins. Most of them are associated with increased cancer risks.
The Health Department of New York has lots of resources on the health effects of smoke from fires and how to protect yourself.
When you see people walking around in masks, normally those masks protect from particles – not gasses and vapors (source). The masks that protect from particles of smoke are called particulate respirators. The California Department of Public Health put together a flyer on how to wear these masks correctly. You can access it here. A variety of particulate respirators are sold on Amazon as well.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a lot of helpful information on how to choose and wear a correct mask/respirator. You can access it here.
When your air quality reaches “unhealthy” on the index, it is a good idea to stay indoors and run your in-home filtration system. Know that HVAC filters won’t protect you fully because HVAC home filters normally filter out particles, viruses, and mold. They are not as good with gasses.
Mobile air purifiers are good for both. Normally, those filters include two technologies: HEPA and carbon-based technology. HEPA filters protect from particles and carbon filters protect from gasses. I recommend well-established brands such as Austin Air.
My doctor Myrto Ashe, MD just sent an email with helpful tips on how to protect your health from smoke with diet and supplements.
This is what she said:
“I would recommend people focus more on diet. Antioxidants are in colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, so now is the best time ever to focus on the “colors of the rainbow”, with something from each category (yellow, orange, red, green and brown/tan) every day. For total amounts I would say 5-10 cups of produce daily. I would also focus on darker foods, blueberries and blackberries, black rice, purple potatoes, cocoa nibs, dark chocolate, and lots of spices, herbs, and green tea.
Of course there are subtleties there:
wild blueberries are much better – they are small and purple all the way through – perhaps hard to find this time of year
Endangered Species chocolate has more flavanols than Green and Black’s; other brands may also be great, they have not all been tested
You want 4 cups of green tea daily
You may want to consider superfoods like acai, maqui powder, chia seed, mulberries, goji berries, and make some smoothies
In terms of supplements, we know N-acetyl cysteine helps patients with lung disease. Omega 3s, probiotics, and magnesium are anti-inflammatory. I personally will add some Meriva or Longvida curcumin, and some acetyl or liposomal glutathione.” (source)
I buy and take regularly N-acetyl cysteine and magnesium by Pure Encapsulations from Vitacost. I talked to Vitacost and trust that they store them properly. I also take this fish oil by Nordic Naturals because they make it from very small fish and purify it from environmental toxins.
Summary of How to Protect Yourself from Smoke in the Air
- Obviously, it is best to leave the area impacted with an unhealthy air quality index.
- Stay indoors and run all available filters to protect yourself from both particles and gasses.
- Limit running any A/C or heater that would be pulling air from outside. Although if you recycle the same air you can run into the risk of low oxygen. So you have to make that call as to how much air to bring from outside.
- Drink a lot of water to flash out toxins and stay hydrated as smoke dehydrates the body.
- Follow dietary guidelines that Dr. Myrto Ashe provided
- Take supplements
The Water Bottle Filter You Can Use
And now, I wanted to talk about water. If you have to evacuate or travel, you might not have access to filtered water. The quality of bottled water is poorly regulated and it is normally packaged in plastic.
My husband found this water bottle with a filter inside, which we are going to try while traveling. It is also packaged in plastic but it is a safer plastic. Since we are only using them for travel, any leaching of potentially harmful chemicals will be minimized.
It is made from Tritan plastic. The manufacturer claims that it contains no BPA, BPS, or other bisphenols.
I like that this Aquasana filter is certified by NSF (National Sanitation Foundation). Specifically, it is certified to NSF 42 and NSF 53. What does this mean?
The NSF 42 standard requires filters to reduce non-health-related contaminants to improve the taste of water, which includes chlorine and particles. Since chlorine is a contaminant that spoils the taste of water, in a way NSF 42 is helpful for chlorine reduction. However, certification to NSF 42 does not mean that the harmful by-products of chlorine mentioned above are removed. Moreover, under this standard, there are different degrees to which a filter can remove or reduce chlorine.
This standard establishes the minimum requirements for the certification of filtration systems designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether).
The scope of NSF 53 includes material safety, structural integrity and health-related contaminant reduction performance claims. The most common technology addressed by this standard is carbon filtration.
The Aquasana water bottle filter is sold on Amazon. We have not used it yet but it is the only water bottle filter I found that is certified to filter out lead – not just chlorine.
Aquasana Active 20 oz. Clean Water Bottle with Filter BPA Free Plastic, Glacier
Where to buy
Stay healthy. And please share if you know of other resources to protect yourself from smoke in the air, or to provide filtered water while traveling.
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