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24 June 2016
Advice to Reduce Health Effects of Firesmoke  

Various gases and smoke can be generated from fire and burning.  They include particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and other organic compounds.  The health effects caused by these pollutants depend on multiple factors, such as the concentration of pollutants and their chemical properties, age and health status of the individuals, duration of exposure, the distance from the fire scene, weather conditions and so on.  

Vulnerable Groups

In general, young children, elderly and people with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions are more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure.

Reducing health risks

The general public should stay away from the fire scene. Nearby residents should remain indoors, reduce physical exertion, and keep windows and doors closed to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If smoke has entered the indoor, people should find a safe place for shelter.

Since the weather could be very hot at the same time, nearby residents should run air conditioner or fan to keep indoor cool while windows and doors are kept closed. Also, the air conditioner should set to “recirculate” mode to prevent outdoor smoke getting inside. Residents should also drink plenty of water to prevent heat stroke.

If it is necessary to reach the vicinity of fire scene, people should reduce physical exertion. Some people may indicate a wish to use masks. It should be noted that common masks (such as surgical masks and N95 masks) are not useful in preventing the inhalation of gaseous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and sulphur dioxide.

Although surgical masks may filter larger particles in the air, studies have shown that they are not effective in the filtration of PM of less than 10 microns, let alone PM of less than 2.5 microns.

The efficiency of N95 masks to filter PM depends on whether they are fitted properly. Moreover, they are uncomfortable to use and increase the effort of breathing especially if worn over an extended period of time.

Further Relevant Information

If you wish to know more about air pollution and heat stroke, please visit our following webpage for further information.

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