By Elizabeth Muller
As fires ravage California, destroying thousands of homes and buildings, a much greater number of people are being directly impacted by the horrific air pollution currently covering much of the state. This air pollution is not nearly as deadly as the fires themselves – a best estimate is that only one person will be killed by it – but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real detrimental impact, especially for children, the elderly, and everyone with asthma.
Current levels of outdoor air pollution for most of the Bay Area are considered “unhealthy”. Put another way, spending a day outside in this pollution has a similar impact on your health as smoking five cigarettes. Staying indoors can help, especially if you have a high-quality air filter running full blast. Other coping mechanisms include wearing a facemask (be sure to get one that filters out PM 2.5) and restricting outdoor activity.
Distance from the immediate fire area is no protection. Pollution levels very widely, based on wind conditions. In fact, at the time of writing, the pollution is actually better in Sonoma and Napa than it is in my hometown of Berkeley. Early this morning the air pollution in Berkeley was just “moderate” (like smoking one cigarette per day).
Thankfully, my kids school has made the sensible decision of cancelling all outdoor activities for the whole week, and keeping the kids indoors. They have also cancelled the planned celebration of “Fall Fest” for this Sunday. While the air pollution may not be as deadly as the raging fires, it is worth taking steps to minimize your family’s exposure.
Elizabeth Muller is the co-founder and Executive Director of Berkeley Earth, a non-profit research organization. Elizabeth guided the strategic development of Berkeley Earth from global warming data analysis, to climate communications, to global warming mitigation, and now, PM2.5 and global air pollution. Elizabeth has authored numerous scientific and policy papers, as well as Op Eds in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and made numerous TV and radio appearances. Prior to co-founding Berkeley Earth, Elizabeth was Director at Gov3 (now CS Transform) and Executive Director of the Gov3 Foundation. From 2000 to 2005 she was a policy advisor at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In these positions, she advised governments in over 30 countries, in both the developed and developing world, and has extensive experience with stakeholder engagement and communications, especially with regard to technical issues.