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Air Quality Dicey

Health Advisory for Areas Impacted by Smoke from the Zaca Fire


The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) today issued a health advisory for people living in areas affected by smoke from the Zaca Fire. This is an upgrade from the previous precautionary advisory which had been in effect.

Terry Dressler, APCD Director
Click to enlarge photo

Terry Dressler, APCD Director

Said Air Pollution Control Officer Terry Dressler, “As the fire continues to burn, it’s important that residents continue to take steps to avoid exposure to smoke as much as possible.”

Dr. Elliot Schulman, County Health Officer, said, “It’s likely people will continue to see falling ash but the thing to be most concerned about form a health perspective is if you smell smoke. The smaller particulates present in smoke are what increase health risks so if you smell smoke, be cautious and use common sense to protect your family’s health.”

Everyone, especially people with heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults and children should limit time spent outdoors and limit prolonged or heavy exertion when the smell of smoke is present. If you have symptoms of lung or heart disease that may be related to excess smoke exposure, including repeated coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness, contact your health care provider.

Due to continuing changes in weather conditions, and burning operations undertaken by the fire agencies to control the fire, the possibility for smoke exposure has increased.. This health advisory is in effect indefinitely and may be revised as conditions warrant.

Health Effects of Smoke

Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and can worsen illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions. If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people.

Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people. Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they’re more likely to be active outdoors.

Wood smoke contains the following air pollutants:

* Particulate matter, fine particles that can get into our eyes and noses, and can stay trapped in sensitive areas of our lungs;

* Cancer-causing substances, including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic organic matter;

* Carbon monoxide, which reduces the blood’s ability to supply oxygen to tissues;

* Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and hydrocarbons, both involved in the formation of ozone, a principal component of smog.

Tips on how to protect your family from fires and the harmful effects of smoke:

* Check out the Santa Barbara County Fire Department website, for information on assembling a disaster kit, establishing a “defensible space” directly around your home, and more.

* Check this link to the County Health website for smoke advisories and updates. But also use common sense. If it smells smoky outside, it’s not a good time for you or your children to exercise outdoors.

* If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors closed - unless it’s extremely hot outside. If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. Don’t use fireplaces, gas logs, or candles, don’t vacuum, and don’t smoke.

* When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. If you have heart or lung disease, are an older adult, or have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area.

* Be sure to call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

Recent health studies have shown that air pollution can cause problems at even lower levels of pollution than was previously thought. Elevated levels of particulate matter have been linked to increased numbers of emergency room visits for heart problems. NOx and ozone have been shown to harm lung development in children, and have been linked with development of early childhood asthma. Air pollution has also been shown to play a role in the development of lung cancer.

For more information…

For more information on smoke impacts, see this web page developed for the public by the California Air Pollution Control Officer’s Association. The page lists the health impacts of smoke and protective measures, and includes links for additional information.



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