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Falling Ash Rains Toxic Chemicals Across the North State

How to clean the dangerous mess safely and why those respirators are so valuable.

Posted: Aug. 9, 2018 4:14 AM
Updated: Aug. 9, 2018 6:59 AM

Chico, Calif.-- Smoke from the Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires have made it uncomfortable to be outdoors really all across the North State.

You might think respirators look a little dramatic -- but they're not!

Using one will really help you from inhaling ash particles into your lungs.

You want an N-95 or P-100 rating - a bandana or surgical mask is not going to do it right now, with all the ash in the air.

(Get one for free here).

"The main pollutant of concerns with wildfires is particulates - especially the really small ones, 2.5 microns in size or smaller - the ones that can get deep into your lungs," said Jason Mandly from the Butte County Air Quality Managment District.

People have different levels of tolerance of course, but here are some indications the smoke is getting to you - itchy eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, wheezing.

It can be hard on your heart as well; you might experience palpitations and tightness in your chest.

Other signs are headaches and nausea, unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.

So, with air quality today at the unhealthy level, know your sensitivity and don't go out for a run, don't do heavy yard-work..

"The weather hasn't bothered me at all, I've enjoyed running outside. Other peole are outside smoking constantly and doing outside exercises so this sort of smoke shouldn't be as bad either," said Becca Barker, Chico resident.

"We still do it but it's not right for the kids, so I think if someone has protection, that's better," said Chico resident Fermin Vazquez.

And on the topic of yard-work, if you've noticed a light coating of ash across your community - it's not just messy, it's a health hazard.

We started to see it falling from the skies across the valley and foothills last weekend, and it's still happening.

Of course, we want to clean it up and keep from tracking it indoors, but the California Department of Public Health warns us to be very careful when doing so.

"As far as cleaning it, up, use a gentle sweeping action or wet cloth instead of a leaf blower- that would just make it so you or other people could breath it in," said Mandly.

The ash may contain many toxic substances, including arsenic, asbestos, lead and fine particles that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory problems.

So, a big part of protecting yourself is in keeping it out of the air - leaf blowers and sweeping may seem like a smart way to clean up, but stirring it up just means you're breathing it in.

You don't want to be touching it either - the toxic chemicals can absorb through your skin.

Your best bet is to take your shoes off before going into your house, you can even get a sticky mat to remove dust at the door.

Wash your hands and shower frequently, and wash off any toys or tools that you left outdoors, using gloves while doing it.

And if you have indoor- outdoor pets, it's time for another bath, whether they like it or not.

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