Wildfire Smoke / Particulate Information
Particulate Matter - Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gas and tiny bits of matter, called particulate matter. The following description of particulate pollution is from the Enviromental Protection Agency website, EPA AIRNOW.
"Particle pollution is a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in air. This pollution, also known as particulate matter, is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles, and allergens (such as fragments of pollen or mold spores).
"The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Larger particles are of less concern, although they can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat.
"Small particles of concern include 'fine particles' (such as those found in smoke and haze), which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less; and 'coarse particles' (such as those found in wind-blown dust), which have diameters between 2.5 and 10 micrometers."
How can you tell if the air is 'bad'?
There are particulate monitors in downtown Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau which are operated year round. The monitors capture the local PM 2.5 levels (those particles 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less).
During the summer months, the Fairbanks North Star Borough prepares a weekly Air Quality forecast for the Fairbanks area. The forecast is on their website (http://co.fairbanks.ak.us/airquality/ ). If smoky conditions warrant, daily updates will be provided.
The Municipality of Anchorage's Air Quality hotline number is: 907-343-4899.
If you do not live near an area with a particulate monitor, you can use visibility as a guide to local air quality. The Fairbanks North Star Borough's Judging Particulate Levels in Your Area due to Smoke will help you take responsibility for your own health and safety.
Further information about wildland fires, smoke, and particulates may be found below:
- To report a wildland fire in Alaska call: 1-800-237-3633
- Questions about wildfires?
- Current wildland fire situation reports - from the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center
- Fairbanks North Star Borough Air Quality info - or call 907-459-1234
- Municipality of Anchorage Air Quality Hotline: 907-343-4899
- Judging Particulate Levels in Your Area Due to Smoke - Fairbanks North Star Borough: visibility range, particulate levels, and cautionary statements
- Wildfire Smoke - A Guide for Public Health Officials - A Montana informational booklet about wildfire smoke.
- Wildfire Smoke Health Information - Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
- An explanation of EPA's Air Quality Index: http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi
- How to protect your family from the health effects of smoke - from EPA AIRNow
- Health Threat from Wildfire Smoke - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- How Particulate Matter Affects the Way We Live & Breathe - EPA information on particulate matter
- EPA Clean Burning Woodstoves and Fireplaces : http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/
- Respirator Fact Sheet - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Note that carpentry dust masks are usually not effective against smoke particulates.