Rising health risks from West Coast wildfires
Hey everyone it's officially fall. Nice weather, beautiful colors but the other day I found myself in a scene from bladerunner. It's Wednesday. September ninth and I alongside everyone in San Francisco woke up to this creepy weird. Orange glow in the air yeah. It was. It was surreal. So I literally started recording my thoughts. And walking grab lunch right now it's about two o'clock. It's a little lighter, but it's it's orange outside. This is so nuts it looks like there's just an instrument filter but of everything and almost looks like another planet ash covering it even piling up on cars smokey's orange haze that looks like dust or movie on Mars travelers just must be stunned when they're looking at those windows and seeing all that orange. Sky. I gotta say I enjoyed the change of scenery but for a whole minute because I really started to worry. Looked exactly. The same outside from seven am until now, which is about. Four PM. Literally can't even tell what time it is. It's just it's orange fog o'clock all day. Okay. It's now September tenth. The Sky isn't as orange. It's got this misty foggy smoky look to it kind of like it could be really bad cloudy day. If I. Take my mask off. It basically just smells like smoke and fire. The air quality actually feels worse today than yesterday all along the West Coast dozens of large fires have caused evacuations, widespread destruction, and creating these gigantic plumes of smoke. So I took a step back and started to wonder. What's actually inside all the smoke we're seeing and how does it really affect air quality? What's it doing on the microscopic level when I breathe it in? What's it doing to my lungs? How does this affect the other issue Kobe? This is Nova now where we try to clear the air and find the science behind the headlines. I'M A low Patel. What's happening here in California in some ways isn't that unusual wildfires happen every year and they're essentially divided into two main categories, wildfires and prescribed fires. Wildfires can started by lightning lava or by people doing things that they shouldn't do like when you fail to put out a campfire or when you set off fireworks. Whereas prescribed fires ignited after careful planning by local fire managers. Let me be clear not all wildfires are bad. There's a natural force out there. Sometimes there needed to renew and balance ecosystems by getting rid of old brush helping germinate the seeds, some plants or providing important charred habitat for certain insects and small wildlife. When they rage out of control, obviously they can be deadly and right now we've seen a record breaking amount of acres, scorched, generating vast clouds of smoke and air pollution. Monday September. Fourteenth. Air feels a little better. It looks a little better outside but are a Q. I. It's still between one fifty and two hundred, which is still not great. Ache Ui is the air quality index think of it as a yardstick to measure air quality it was made by the US Environmental Protection Agency and it runs from zero to five, hundred, the higher, the value, a higher, the air pollution, the the air pollution. The higher, the health concern. Zero is like crystal clear pristine air with no pollution and anything above three hundred is just straight up labeled as hazardous. All right to really understand these apocalyptic skies I spoke with someone who's literally flown through them to find the answers. Her name is Emily Fisher. I'm an associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University. She Studies how air pollutants moving the atmosphere and how wildfire smoke impacts air. Quality. In two thousand, eighteen, you have this project called we can, and I'm like this is awesome Western wildfire experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol absorption, and nitrogen. I would just walk into bars and tell people that's what I did but can you tell us about the weekend project? Sure. So in summer twenty, eighteen, a large team instrument at the NSF and Kirsty thirty aircraft that's a Lockheed C. One thirty Hercules gigantic American four engine military transport aircraft transformed in this case into a chemistry Skylab, and we sampled the smoke from more than twenty different wildfires all across the West. So similar sized wildfires to those that are burning right now, very large wildfires. Basically. What we did all summer was wake up in the morning. Get the instruments ready. About one o'clock in the afternoon, we live to whatever wildfire was most active that day starting basically as close as we could safely to the fire source and then tracking that same poem. Down wind and repeatedly sampling the chemistry of that. We would take the plane and cross perpendicular the in and out of the smoke moving away from the wildfire. So, it's like we were mowing the lawn with the airplanes taking samples to understand how the smoke chemical composition changed. When time a sounds Kinda scary. You're basically describing was how you and your team. For in the C. One thirty and you actually were getting some smoke samples directly coming into the aircraft Yes. But the windows of the aircraft are not open right. So most of the smoke staying outside the aircraft and we are very carefully sampling the outside air pulling little bits of and very quickly directly into different sets of instrumentation. So. We would fly up to these fields, cumulus clouds, and then I would say, okay pilot. Pilot would just cloud to cloud like. And the whole back of the plane has like. Feeling like they're gonNA vomit and I would medicate myself with one of those like school mean patches, right? So that I didn't throw up in the front see like sitting there at the window being so. Emily fishers team conducted over a dozen smoke observation flights between July and August of two, thousand and eighteen. It's one of the most comprehensive attempts so far to measure and analyze the wildfire smoke that can blanket vast areas of the country. So, basically, we were measuring harmon monoxide and dioxide fain trajan science nitric acid. Nitrate at a bunch of other things like benzine ozone and toluene emolument paints and adhesives. Things that probably should not be in your lungs that many wildfires as we cut that day I want to be an atmospheric scientists. Now, my heart was racing a lot and it's just I think because these fires are just so large and so powerful that it. Just feels wrong to be that. It's like, what am I doing? What am I flying into this thing? I can't see it smells like a crazy campfire you know. and. So basically, as soon as we would cross the smoke room, I would be able to see carbon monoxide rocket up in addition to visually knowing was plan because we can't see anything. You can also chemically see that rapid shifted air chemistry but at the same time, you know it's safe right? If the pilots comfortable, they're not going to do something that they think is unsafe. This is one of the most amazing commitments to meteorological. Based on this. Can you tell us what exactly wildfire smoke is made of mile fire smoke is a combination of thousands of different gases and small fine particles that range in sizes and the composition of those particles is mainly organic carbon but there's all sorts of other constituents in there as well. Mainly, it has to do with what was burned by the particular fire in question trees, vegetation houses, vehicles. So the composition of smoke changes as you move down win so that the smoke that you would be breathing if you were say. Right at a campfire or write down wind of a wildfire within hours is very different than the smoke that you're breathing. If you were breathing smoke one day down wind or so and so each chemical species lasts a different amount of time in the atmosphere. But what about that blade runner orange sky when you have a really concentrated smoke. It's absorbing quite a bit of Sun's light and reflecting another portion of it and so it's To her visibility is compromised and then the fresher smoke tends to look more orange and more brown and that's exactly what we saw here in San Francisco a few weeks ago. It was a combination of atmosphere at chemistry physics right before our eyes smoke particles from the wildfires filter out certain wavelengths of sunlight pretty much. They're absorbing or scattering the blue while leading some other colors come through which can give skies that infernal creepy color can also make the city darker and colder. Now on the other hand when fires are local people see these massive smoke clouds they think, oh my gosh, that's bad and instantly becomes news and you can smell it because it's local and so the cons that Snell are still very much president smoke. and. So people seem to be protecting themselves under those conditions by. So as you move further down wind and smoke gets dilute, people can't smell the smoke right off the compounds that smell reacted away. It only takes a day for the chemicals and smoke that caused that smokey smell to react other substances in the atmosphere like ozone. And once those reactions take place the smoke loses its smell that this is tricky because. I smoke is still dangerous. For example, benzine can stick around in the air for a day or two. Well, after that smokey smell is gone and benzene can actually cause cancer in humans with long term exposure. So a little different than what's happening with wildfires but it's still something that's terrible for your lungs. About compounds can also form when certain chemicals in the smoke start to. Break. down. Now at some point, the smoke becomes more diluted, and also this depends on how much someone is actually out there breathing they're not taking protective actions or at least that's our hypothesis when you know their noses aren't telling them to do so. You know this morning I looked at the. Than I need that determination for my family this morning my kids are not allowed to go outside we need we need to check that day Hugh I. That's where we should be getting our information from not from our noses right now I mean you see reports of wildfire smoke from the west coast getting over to the Midwest and the East Coast we see reports of welfare smoke making it to Europe right. So wildfire smoke particularly from large western US wildfires can travel very far so it is routine for that smoke to cross the North American continent There are regions that are more typically down wind of upwind fire regions so for example. You Know Colorado is often down wind of the Pacific northwest or northern California. Now that smoke plume may not always be at the ground impacting your quality, but is somewhere in the atmospheric column. So for some things, go all the way around the northern hemisphere at approximately the latitude of California Oregon, Washington and approximately. That's three to four weeks. The impact reduces as you move further down wind because the smoke gets diluted reacts way or it's rained out. Thank you rain. Now one of the compounds at Emily Fisher founded wildfire smoke is PM two point five. The PM particulate matter basically a mixture of solid particles in liquid droplets found in the air. Sometimes, you can see some of those particles in dust dirt suit or smoke but other times they're so small, they can only be detected using an electron microscope. The two point five means particles have a diameter that's generally two point, five micrometres or smaller, which to give you perspective is a tiny fraction of the width of a single human hair. And these particles can go deep into your lungs and caused a lot of respiratory problems. That's physiology, which has a doctor is my jam but. We needed a specialist so I phoned a friend. Do I have to call Darling Jamie for sure. Cedric Jimmy Rollin is a pulmonary and critical care physician in southern California and a spokesperson for the American Lung Association and sometimes actually call him for life advice. You know my expertise in the pulmonary world is with autoimmune lung disorders or anything that causes inflammation in Merom that's just really not supposed to be there. So you can classify asthma is one of those interstitial lung disease things of that sort I I also do interventional. Just, keep my hands dirty as well as running intensive care units just to keep my mind. Wife and two kids were amazing and. That's it. I think it's funny because some people out there play solitaire or video games to quote uncle keep their mind. SHARP DR RUNS ICU's to keep his mind sharp-edged that to sink in with everyone Jamie spoke to me from his house where his two kids are running around. You can kind of hear them. It's durable. Jamie before we talk about things that don't belong in our lungs such as smoke you're in southern California. How is the past couple of weeks been the wildfire smoke house that been for you and your patients you know two weeks ago when I stepped outside and immediately smelled smoke. As soon as you smell the smoke, your body knows your eyes start to get irritated they started to water your lungs are Kinda like. Wait what is that what's going on here and I immediately look down right I'm looking at my kids and I'm like, do they feel this because that's when I gotta make a u-turn go back insi it's obviously affecting patients and it does affect my practice because I do get a lot of phone calls on exacerbations of respiratory illnesses and allergic type of illnesses as well. Now, we just talked to an atmospheric scientist. About the particles that are actually wildfire smoke and we talked about organic carbon monoxide. But you know she also brought up things like benzene, toluene ozone, and all these other byproducts. Can you speak to kind of what these molecules could do to our lungs and are short and long term health? So it's not supposed to be there your body recognizes it as foreign and it increases the inflammatory products. Inflammatory products is another way of saying our system see something in your body that doesn't belong there, and then there's an attack, some cellular byproducts and this all causes local inflammation in when you have an increase in inflammation in the lung. Belong instead of being full of air is full of white blood cells and bullets reactive oxygen species. When you think reactive oxygen species skip the chemistry textbook just think chemical it has oxygen can cause reactions. Sometimes, those reactions can be good. Sometimes, they can be really bad that also leads more and more inflammation. So what ends up happening is significant harm in your lungs and the way that you feel that you guys driving you guys listening is your short of breath and you call, I understand that someone around the smoke if you can see the smoke, it's in the air, you're near wildfire could. Feel those effects right away. But what kind of health effects can you see if you're far away from the smoke and the error kind of has these pollutants in it, but you don't necessarily see it. The most common health affects that you're going to see in those communities are the common becks that we see in people who are living in industrialized areas. You'RE GONNA see the asthma exacerbations in the younger kids you're going to see allergic type of summer Tennessee cough if you're patient and smokes and has significant lung disease, you're GonNa feel as soon as you step outside, you're going to be like. I'm not getting enough oxygen I don't feel like I'm getting enough air reason not getting enough air is because the air is full of other things other than nitrogen and oxygen. It's also people up and that's an issue. Fair. He's. So when we're here these headlines Right or these recommendations about you know going inside and protecting yourself from the harmful air getting a the filter I, think there's a biased because some people don't have access to that. Right? Like we have a man in California large homeless community. There are people who don't necessarily have a chance to go to save shelter or drive away. Can you talk about the disproportionate impact that we're seeing right now on poor air quality air pollution on different communities and what message do we need to sit out there? What can we do to collectively help people? So here's what I notice. People can't afford to live where it's the most safe people can't afford to live where the air is the cleaners but what ends up happening and this is interesting policymakers will make it. So diesel trucks can't drive through beverly, hills. But they can drive through the industrialized areas sill beach in long. Beach Right. So what happens is you have a concentration of air. Pollution in neighborhoods that are in these industrialized areas that leads to significant healthcare problems like asthma like other types of lung diseases right. When you start to build up the solution over the course of time, you're more likely to develop these issues not to mention the fact that these children and adults are doing the same thing that other people are doing like being right smoking, which is further damaging their low. So the disproportion continues because there's no access to healthcare. Their physicians aren't going there to educate the public on what's happening in what's going on and how to stay as healthy as they can I'm not. Everybody deserves to live off of her Dale Dry. All I'm saying is that at some point me you, we gotta go into that neighborhood and educate the children educated adults about what's actually happening and what their risk is. To be honest with you I consider myself savvy enough when it comes to social determinants of health and awareness but I had no idea about that diesel truck. Kinda. issue. In another question for you have you seen anything recently, any links any kind of exacerbations of covert nineteen symptoms with this wildfire smoke I got a lot of questions from people saying like, how do I tell the difference between the two? Yeah. So listen we already know that if you have quoted nineteen and you smoke, you're GONNA do worse than somebody who? Doesn't smoke, and so when I think about air pollution, it's the same thing we already know that air pollution can lead to worsening covert nineteen. The studies are being done. We can't state exactly the prognosis or the relative risk or whatever it is. Now what we know that it affects it. So yeah, it makes a difference however people that have smoke inhalation injury. Our next to the fires. Those are the people that most commonly presents the hostile or to the clinic next the fires. Now, the other thing about his as people flee these fires going, we're going inside well who's inside other people and so now they're exposing themselves to greater number of people. More people means more exposure to the virus that's initial. Funding for NOVA NOW'S PROVIDED BY DRAPER Draper is going places from the Moon to cyberspace interested in joining them. Bizet draper. Dot Com. I gotTa Say I think twenty. Twenty has become the year of the facemask because you know we've been using masks medicine for over a hundred years. But. This is the first time we've seen them dominate the headlines. Here's director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield at a Senate hearing last week. Facemasks, these face masks are the most important powerful public health tool we have I might even go so far as to say that this mask is more guaranteed to protect me. Against Covert. Then when I take a co- vaccine mask, the center stage in the fight against the virus SARS Kobe to which causes the disease. Kobe. And they've also been the focal point of arguments that have started fights in grocery stores, airplanes even aboard a New York City fairy give me a break in lately. People are also thinking about them in the context of wildfire smoke. The Sun is blocked the mountains herbs scared, and the maths are now serving a dual purpose. This is just making this worse with Cova. Making the masks more imperative be wearing right now than ever. Now granted masks were old news in Asia way before the pandemic, we saw them become a central item, China's fight against air pollution and especially in two thousand and two, two, thousand and three during the SARS outbreak and that one by the way was successfully contained. But are they what we really need when it comes to dealing with wildfires smoke to find out more I talked to a couple of researchers at a school material science and engineering at Georgia. Tech. MIAMI. Park a my name is Sundays and Jada Almond they're sort of modern versions of inspector gadget when it comes to integrating electronics and textiles there the CO creators of the smart shirt, the first wearable motherboard created in. Nineteen. ninety-six it's basically shirt made out of intelligent fabric that get this can monitor vital signs. It's so awesome. The shirt is now in the Smithsonian now over the past decade, this dynamic duo who sounds like they should be designing costumes for superheroes have been studying face masks I looking at pictures. From that area and it's so painful and here we have these people who are fighting fires. We need to take those guys but equally importantly the poor citizens who are there, what kind of protection they need? I have a engineering question ask both of you. You know we're a mask almost every single day I'm at work pre pandemic during the pandemic and you know physicians and public health experts have been. Talking to everyone about the importance of masks right now and how they work. But I would love to hear from an engineering perspective about the difference protection between and ninety five versus surgical mask versus a cloth masks. The End Ninety five is what you call the gold standard right as a physician. You know when you wear a ninety five, you'll get fit tested just befitted to the individual who is wearing it. The fittest. That there is no leakage either inward or outward leakage. And what they ninety-five tells you is it is going to filter out ninety five percent of the particular. That are point, three microns and higher. So when you say and ninety five, you just go to Home Depot and pick up and in thousand five, you're not going to have the ninety five percent protection just because you have and ninety five because it does not been fit tested. So there's a little bit of confusion about the difference between an end ninety. Five and A K and ninety five it all comes down to wear the mask was certified standard n ninety five masks are generally certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and health here in the US but they can be certified in other countries as well whereas the K and ninety five are generally certified in China. Now if you run out and just find any ninety five mask or you pick one up at the store and you don't get professionally fitted. It'll still work, but it may not work as efficiently as it could because everyone's faces different Dr and I have to tell you a very quick funny story when I was a resident I had to go get fit tested for my and ninety five mask at the same time I thought I would be cool and I thought it was gonna look good growing a beard I showed up to get tested and there were like you have to shave that beard right now at the doctor gyro putting a big X of his hands for our listeners I shaved my beard in a bathroom at the testing place with a razor and water no shaving cream. And so I, I had shaved his beard but I also had a bunch of razor burn and bleeding and ended fit test, and then Dr Patel is not doing any kind of innovation or any up procedure that's going to generate an aerosol. He's going to be using a surgical masks and surgical mask. PROTECTS DR per tales droplets from reaching his patients. It also provide some degree of protection to him are in Tulsa Office, surgery cameras this has a very good filtration efficiency. Bob Can see there is a kind of opening on the side and also especially on top of knows that, song? ME. Park. By the way and that means surgical masks have very good filtration in the front but not around it. Think of it like if you're holding an umbrella, you're going to protect yourself from rain coming straight down on top of you. But if it's raining sideways, you don't have full protection in your body's going to get wet I agree I think the fit is not only is it really important? I think it's underestimated when These masks and they don't understand air is flowing to the side and people say, Oh, my God why are my glasses fogging up when aware? Air is flying up your nose. Can you give us a quick definition of filtration efficiency? Let's say you've got hundred bad guys coming through. Okay and you put a barrier, and after only three guys can go inside. That means you're filtered out ninety seven percent of the bad guys. You can also think in terms of your typical trainer, you might use in your kitchen, right? You're signing pastor for instance. So what happens you put it in your trainer the big piece of stay inside the strain, but the water goes down but if any Of, for Pasta, pieces is broken down that's also going through the sieve and it's going to come out. So that's how I would explain tradition efficiencies how effective it is in terms of trapping the bad guys from either coming in are going out understood and Jeremy. You mentioned a stranger in the kitchen I was hoping you were going to use Chai as an example rather than pasta, but that's okay. And filtration important at the same time breathe ability eighty. You can have a higher education, but if you can breathe through it, then that's useless. So Park Jeremy brought their engineering, know how to face masks and developed a breathable comfortable and washable design that limits leakage and is more effective from the viewpoint of filtration from your regular old maybe artistic cloth masks other mosque is made of textile fabric. Their redesigned mask is made of several pieces of fabric that are sewn together. It covers everything from above your nose to under your Chin. Almost going down here, neck. There's then panels a fabric that cover your cheeks, and there's a small opening for your ears and the best part is it securely fastens behind the back of your head, which makes stay in place. And it's reusable. For a couple of reasons, one and ninety five cannot be washed a surgical moss cannot be washed unfortunately today's many people are using and ninety five's okay. Let has our mosque is intended for the general public. It also features a pocket in the front where you can insert a filter. If you WANNA level up your filtration efficiency, which is a good idea and protecting yourself against cove nineteen, he does not have the filtration efficiency of an end ninety five. So it does not a respirator, it does not a surgical mask, it is a fabric or cloth masks. But combines some features of the end ninety five by proceeding good form fit so that you're able to prevent the bad guys from going out to others and the bad guys from coming into you. Now you're wondering, where can I get my very own Park Jayaraman mask? Well, it's not commercially available just yet, but you can make one yourself. If you just check out the paper, they wrote in the Journal of the Tax Institute, There's easy to follow instructions and there's photos and pro tip use multiple pieces of fabrics. You Can Kinda win style points sil- matters. All right that's facemasks one. Oh One but do they work in terms of protecting yourself from wildfire smoke back to Dr Jamie Rutland one hundred percent and ninety five is the best masks aware. But people please don't hold them. They can be the difference between life and death for many healthcare workers and first responders. Cloth masks don't work in wildfires. Other masks will work if you have nothing. Yeah. You'RE GONNA have to o'clock over your face just recognize it. It's not doing much when you go to the grocery store and you're buying paper towels and toilet paper and you gotta find. Least a collection of n ninety, five masks whether it's K. and ninety, five or ninety five. especially if you're in a high risk area like we are for the virus, like the entire West Coast is sally a high risk area just a little nuts. So to protect yourself, you have to do the same thing that we're doing with SARS coach you you have to stay inside wash your hands. You wear masks when you're outside into all those necessary things to make certain that don't expose yourself or. Caused. Damage to yourself when you don't really have to. Jamie. Thank you. For more information, go to lung dot org were there's loads of resources on wildfire safety, as well as information on cove nineteen, and if you want to explore dozens of other medical topics with Jamie visit his youtube channel. Medicine deconstructed. If you have to deal wildfire smoke, it's best to reduce your exposure stay inside of windows and doors close and US air filters you can especially if you have underlying medical conditions. And as always listen to your local health officials and talk to your doctor about your own risk. Also. To get the air quality data where you live Kgo to air. Now Dot Gov or Purple Air. Dot Com stay informed people. Nova now is a production of GV H. and P. R. X.. It's produced by Ian Costs are Daniel Johnson Gonzales Isabel Hibbard, Christina monon Sandra Lopez Solvay, and Nina. I'm looking over the wider on the Embarcadero Towards Oakland and it's blue skies. I I can't believe it just one week ago. This place looked like a dystopia and future. So I think we're in a good window right now one thing that worries me is that we still have some more time left and fire season so. Hopefully. It stays like this for as long as possible. Julia Corden Chris Schmidt are the CO executive producers of Nova Dante. Graves is director of audience, development, Sukey Bennett digital editor, and Robin. Casimir is science editor sounds of the C. One thirty aircraft provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. And our theme music is by the extremely hype and Innovative Dj Kid Koala. I'm Patel we'll be back in two weeks, which is enough time for you to so your very own park Jayaraman facemask. and Go wild with it. It's multiple pieces of fabric. I mean you could go pink blue green maybe some Paisley Floral Houndstooth herringbone plaid window, pane, Shark Skin Polkadot, Gingham, Glenn, check I don't know maybe graph check Madrid bengals striped awnings dry bird's eye candy stripe pencil-stripe Tartan what.