A few months ago, we were swimming in smoke.
Well, not me. I stop outdoor exercise when wildfire smoke pushes the Air Quality Index (AQI) above 125. Even though that’s below the 150 “Unhealthy” rating.
You see, AQI only measures five major pollutants: Ground-level ozone, particulate matter (including PM2.5 and PM10), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. It doesn’t take into account all the other nasties that wildfire puts into the air, such as lead, zinc, calcium, iron and manganese.
Think, “Oh, yummm, I love that smell of burning wood. Especially when it’s mixed with burning cars, creosote/arsenic/penta-treated utility poles, and lots of plastic toys!”
A proper mask will filter out particulate matter. Which is the biggest threat to your health. But it won’t do anything about the nasty toxic gases. And it has to fit tightly — no cheating air sneaking in around the edges. And it has to be N95-grade (or “NIOSH-approved N95 Particulate Filtering Facepiece Respirator”) — a cowboy bandanna or triple-layer cotton COVID mask helps but won’t do it.
Read about wildfire smoke and public health in The Wildfire Smoke Guide for Public Health Officials.