Smoky sun in Redding

Holly Quan/KCBS Radio

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes--and Lungs

KCBS Radio Morning News
July 31, 2018 - 7:37 am

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) -- As wildfires sweep the state, tens of thousands of Californians are breathing air that's considered unhealthy or dangerous.

Tuesday morning air pollution index readings in the Redding area placed air quality in the "unhealthy" category. The chief pollutant is what's known as "PM 2.5", or fine particles of two and one half microns or less in width. Air quality readings in the Redding area have shown PM 2.5 readings of 170 and above, with readings of 35 and below considered "healthy".

Experts say they continue to study the long term impacts of exposure to PM 2.5 and other fire-caused pollutants. But they do know one thing: indoor air isn't any better than outdoor air.

"Even indoors, the particulate matter levels are almost as high as they are outdoors," said University of Montana Professor of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences Christopher Migliaccio. 

He told KCBS Radio morning anchors Stan Bunger and Susan Leigh Taylor there is some validity to the long-standing advice to "stay indoors" during smoky conditions. That's because people tend to be less active indoors, drawing less of the polluted air into their lungs.

Migliacco said HEPA air filters are effective at removing PM 2.5 particles and people in smoke-prone areas should use them to create at least one room where the air quality is better.

The University of Montana professor is working with colleagues to follow the health of people in the Seeley Lake area of Montana, where wildfires last year saw people exposed to daily PM 2.5 levels over 200 for more than two months last year.