The report from the the Environmental Protection Agency on the air quality at school sites from the Thermal mulch fire show there is no evidence what’s burning is dangerous.
Tests were done on October 22, 2019, that’s more than a week after the fire started.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer helped us break down the report.
He says the tests were done because there was concern what was burning was toxic.
“They were looking not only for things such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other kinds of combustion products, but they were also looking for things like cyanide and they were looking for volatile organic compounds which can be toxic in large quantities when inhaled,” said Kaiser.
He says what’s burning is green waste, made up of mainly plant materials, “That can still put up a lot of smoke we want people to be careful about that but we don’t find any evidence that’s it’s burning anything toxic and we don’t find anything toxic in the smoke.”
Kaiser says there’s a difference between air toxicity and air particulates and the smoke still poses a problem as seen during day four of the fire when the smoke sent over a dozen students to the hospital.
“Smoke can be really damaging particularly to people who have lung disease or if they have asthma or heart disease that’s the kind of thing that will definitely send them to the hospital but even in these cases as we unfortunately tragically found out that can even happen to kids who don’t have significant health problems and with smoke it has a lot of particulate matter in it that can get deep within the lungs themselves and even if the combustion products themselves aren’t toxic they can still cause a lot of trouble within the lungs,” he says.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s particulate readings show fluctuations hour by hour that’s why says it’s best for those in sensitive groups to play it safe.
“Because we’re still finding a lot of particulate matter in the air as the AQMD sensor station is showing we want people to minimize their outdoor activity so they’re breathing in less of it, because it’s going to be a few more days before they get the fire out completely,” he says.
The SCAQMD advises the following:
If you smell smoke or see ash due to a wildfire, here are ways to limit your exposure:
Remain indoors with windows and doors closed or seek alternate shelter;
Avoid vigorous physical activity;
Run your air conditioner if you have one. Make sure it has a clean filter and that it is recirculating the indoor air to prevent bringing additional smoke inside;
Avoid using a whole-house fan or a swamp cooler with an outside air intake;
Avoid using indoor or outdoor wood-burning appliances, including fireplaces and candles.
Older adults, young children, pregnant women, and people with heart diseases or lung diseases (such as asthma) may be especially sensitive to health risks from wildfire smoke.