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Navigating Clear Air Month Amidst Canadian Wildfires

Navigating Clear Air Month Amidst Canadian Wildfires

May 24, 2024 10:41 AM CDT

By: Meteorologist Brittney Merlot

MADISON, Wis. (CIVIC MEDIA) – Smoke from blazing fires blows in pollutants, here’s the health risks you should know and ways to keep yourself safe.

As May unfolds, so does Clean Air Month, an annual reminder of the importance of breathable, pollution-free air for our health and the environment. However, most recently, many states are grappling with a pressing issue: Canadian wildfires causing smoke and air quality issues. With over 146 active wildfires burning in Canada, wildfire smoke has drifted across the border into the United States, prompting many state officials to issue air quality alerts.

Haze from wildfire smoke as viewed in Wisconsin.
Haze from wildfire smoke as viewed in Wisconsin.

One of the most alarming repercussions of wildfires is the deterioration of air quality due to the release of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These pollutants can penetrate deep into the respiratory system, causing or exacerbating various health problems, including respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, particularly among vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions.

“The impact of poor air quality cannot be overstated,” said Tony Malik, MD, Hospitalist for Aspirus Health. “Whenever we have poor air quality, it can cause exacerbation or flare-ups for people with chronic lung diseases, coronary artery diseases, and other chronic diseases.”

Our lungs need clean air to stay healthy. That’s why it’s important the air we breathe is free of pollution. Each May, the American Lung Association (ALA) celebrates Clean Air Month to educate people about the impact clean air can have on their lives.

Aspirus Health stresses the importance of protecting yourself from air pollution impacts by:

  • Knowing the daily air quality index of your area.
  • Taking precautions when air quality is not safe for your health, including staying indoors, closing windows, using air filters and not smoking.
  • Not exercising next to busy roads to avoid contact with car exhaust.
  • Eliminating bad air from inside your home by keeping it mold-free, cleaning often to avoid dust mites, using cleaning products with lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ensuring fuel-burning appliances are vented properly, testing your home for radon, not smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, and opening windows to bring in fresh air when outdoor air quality is safe.

“Summer is rolling around and people are getting outside – more camping, cleaning up their yards with brush fires or having campfires. Avoid these activities during times of poor air quality,” says Dr. Malik. “It would be a good idea to stay inside or minimize your time outside if possible.”

This Spring, Montana, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan were among the states reporting unhealthy air quality. By prioritizing measures to protect oneself from air pollution and its impacts, individuals can contribute to healthier communities and a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Here’s where current wildfires and prescribed burns are happening in Wisconsin now.

Aspirus Health in Central Wisconsin has taken an active role in sustainability since 2018, including introducing programs to reduce its carbon footprint to support community health and improve air and water quality. One clean air initiative at Aspirus Health is to use clean, renewable solar energy. To date, Aspirus has installed 1.957 megawatts of solar electric panels across its locations. These solar panels use the sun to create electricity, which is used to help power the buildings where they are located.

Another ongoing clean air initiative is the conversion to LED lighting across its hospitals in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. LED lighting uses less energy than traditional lighting while also requiring fewer lights to achieve the same level of brightness. Less energy use translates to fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

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