By Caroline Moassessi
(This is our fourth report from Caroline in five years about smoke and air quality in Reno, Nevada.)
That familiar smell began creeping into Reno today. A sick feeling started in my stomach and made its way down to my toes. I realized this wasn’t just annoying poor air quality wafting into my town. Other years the smell comes from points southwest. A year ago it was the Southern California Sobranes and Sand fires. Now, horrific fires are blazing in Northern California some 200 miles away as a state of emergency has been declared. These were particles of destruction and death, the remnants of a good lives led in the wine country, dreams reduced to smoke. I wanted to lock myself in a closet and cry.
Earlier today, Catalytic Pure Air Filter, lent me a hospital grade air purifier for pals who fled the California fires to Reno. Knowing the air quality here was going to take a turn for the worse, I wanted these friends, who manage severe asthma, to be ready. Within hours of their arrival, the air quality predictably dropped into the Unhealthy for Sensitive Group range (USG), per the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Airnow.gov website tracking.
As the haze moved across the Truckee Meadows sports practices were cancelled. Social media lit up with questions about where to buy air purifiers and questions keeping kids indoors. We have learned the hard way about kids with asthma so those with little ones will send reminders to teachers tomorrow. When our cherubs are not experiencing wheezing, it is far too easy to forget about their asthma and 504 plans.
While schools turn to our local health district for guidance regarding if students should be kept indoors, the reality is that a gust of wind can push dangerous air into a community within minutes – well before administrators have time to make decisions. This is where our asthmatic children can fall through the cracks and be inadvertently sent outdoors.
The best strategy I learned from a dear friend with a severely asthmatic son, was to
check Airnow.gov on the way to school and then immediately contact the teacher and administrator reminding them of my child’s protocol. Even if air quality levels are looking decent, in the moderate range, I look at the forecast and make the decision for the school. Is my child is fighting a cold? On a good day, moderate air quality might be fine, but not if they are fighting off a cold or hay fever. These are the times when ten extra minutes can mean the difference between a trip to the Emergency Room or not.
Now that we are facing horrible air quality again, I’ve loaded Airnow.gov back onto my smartphone. It was there all summer and we struggled through weeks of poor air quality. It got so bad, we started carrying extra spacers and face masks in the car. My daughter, doing her best to be fashionable, opted for a few K-pop mouth masks. They filter out a little smoke, but one needs a true facial mask to block out dangerous particles.
Even though I am dreading the next several days of smoke settling in our town, I am grateful for every minute that I am able to simply turn on our air filters, keep my daughter indoors and take precautions. I can’t shake thinking about our friends in Northern California, who are not only dealing with terrible air quality, they are losing their homes, businesses and health. Nothing matters when you can’t breathe, but after the air clears, you can miss the things you lost.
Caroline Moassessi is the founder and author of the International food allergy and asthma blogsite Gratefulfoodie. She recently received a FARE vision award and is a Huffington Post Blogger. Caroline’s passion as a food allergy and asthma advocate included being the lead advocate for mandated stock epinephrine in Nevada. She presented the need for laws protecting people with life threatening anaphylaxis at the National Conference of State Legislators along side past president Senator Debbie Smith.
Caroline sits on the American Lung Association (ALA) National Social Media Work group, and is the past regional Advocacy Chair, past National Advocacy Work Group member, past Secretary/Treasurer for the ALA of the Southwest region, past president of the Board of Directors for the American Lung Association in Northern Nevada, and was a founding member of the National Allergy and Anaphylaxis Council. Caroline discusses food allergies on her local ABC affiliate network, works as a food allergy liaison with her local school district, contributes to Allergic Living Magazine, and has spoken at the Food Allergy Blogger Conference, Minnesota Food Allergy Conference, Salt Lake City Food Allergy Conference, and the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference. She is a co-group leader and co-founder of the Northern Nevada Asthma and Food Allergy Education Group