Wildfires and indoor air quality
As the summer season approaches, the risk of wildfire smoke will also be making its comeback. Last year’s summer season, the summer of 2022, experienced the highest wildfire emissions in Europe and the United Kingdom since 2007. With our changing climate comes prolonged droughts, more extreme and frequent heatwaves, and increased wildfire activity, meaning that we need to do more to protect our health both indoors and outdoors from the dangers of wildfire emissions. Read on to learn more about what you can do and how an air purifier can help you keep your indoor air clean.
What are wildfires?
In the UK, wildfires are defined as ‘any uncontrolled vegetation fire which requires a decision, or action, regarding suppression’1.
With the rise of global warming, Europe and the United Kingdom are experiencing changes in weather patterns with notably hotter conditions and longer drought periods. This creates optimal conditions for wildfires to ignite and spread quickly.
Wildfires have a handful of triggers including drought, lightening, wind patterns, type of vegetation, and human causes. Both agricultural lands and forests are at risk, as are cultural heritage sites and landscapes that are often located adjacent to forested lands. In addition to wildfires posing a danger to human life and health via air pollution, they also lead to habitat loss for countless wild species that call these places home and danger to livestock that live on agricultural lands.
In the first half of 2019, countries of the European Union saw a three-fold increase in recorded wildfires as compared to the last decade. The following year, 2020, was the world’s 6th warmest year on record. Southern European countries, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, and southwestern France, are those most at risk of wildfires. As global warming continues to advance, the results could be catastrophic. The photo below compares wildfire danger associated with 1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C increases in global temperatures (keeping in mind that the planet is on track to reach a 1.5 ºC increase by the 2030s)2.
The effects of wildfires on human health
As mentioned above, in addition to the impact it has on our natural spaces, wildfire activity has a substantial impact on human health. If a wildfire is active nearby, health officials will recommend staying indoors due to poor outdoor air quality. Unfortunately, this outdoor air pollution can easily enter our homes and become trapped, making the indoor air extremely unhealthy to breathe.
When wood and organic materials burn during a wildfire, a host of air pollutants are released. The most concerning of those pollutants is fine particles. Due to its small size, fine particle pollution (also known as particulate matter, or PM) can easily enter our bodies through the eyes or when we inhale them. Once they have gained access to our lungs upon inhalation, these particles can access the bloodstream and can then move throughout the rest of the body to access other organs like the heart and brain.
Fine particle pollution can cause superficial discomfort upon exposure like eye and throat irritation and coughing. However, exposure to particulate matter can increase the risk of multiple types of cancer (lung cancer in particular), respiratory illness, pregnancy complications, birth defects, and it can even increase the risks of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. PM is also responsible for aggravation of pre-existing conditions like lung disease (especially asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD) and heart disease3.
Current research shows that PM2.5 is the most dangerous of the types of fine particles, but preliminary studies are beginning to show that ultrafine particles, or nanoparticles, such as PM0.1, may be just as dangerous.
How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke?
When wildfires are active nearby and are creating poor air quality in your area, it is typically recommended to avoid outdoor exercise and to wear a mask when outside. But you can also be affected hundreds of miles away depending on wind patterns (as seen in June 2023 when severe air pollution impacted New York City as a result of wildfires in Quebec, Canada).
Pregnant women, children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised (particularly those with respiratory diseases) are the most at risk to the health damages caused by wildfire emissions and should take extra precautions when there is a risk of breathing in wildfire smoke.
Officials also recommend keeping windows closed to avoid outdoor air pollution from entering your home. Unfortunately, outdoor air pollution can still find its way indoors, and when windows are kept closed, you put yourself at a risk of constant exposure to particulate matter. Luckily, an air purifier can help.
Stay safe from wildfire smoke with Eoleaf
High-quality air purifiers, like those offered by Eoleaf, are designed to filter out indoor air pollutants down to a size of 0.01 μm. This includes all fine, ultrafine, and nanoparticles (PM10, PM2.5, PM0.1), smoke (from fires and cigarettes alike), allergens (dust and dust mites, pet hair and dander, pollen), chemical pollution (volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, including formaldehyde), and germs (viruses and bacteria). All of our devices are equipped with 8 different filtration technologies including:
- A pre-filter
- A natural bamboo fibre filter with a non-silver coating
- A medical-grade HEPA H13 filter
- An activated carbon filter
- UV sterilisation
- Ionisation (negative ions)
All of our devices bring the best filtration technologies together in one multilayer filter, creating an air purifier capable of eliminating all potentially harmful contaminants from your breathing air. Furthermore, our devices are Wi-Fi capable and connectable to the Tuya Smart mobile app. This allows you to view your air quality at a glance, giving you peace of mind particularly during times of wildfire activity.
1 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) Evidence Report 2021. (2021). Wildfire Briefing. UK Climate Risk. https://www.ukclimaterisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/CCRA3-Briefing-Land-Use.pdf
2 San-Miguel-Ayanz, J. (2019). Climate change and wildfires. JRC Disaster Risk Management Unit. https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2020-09/09_pesetaiv_wildfires_sc_august2020_en.pdf