Air Quality Experts Urge Precautions During Smoky Conditions

SACRAMENTO -- With smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County forecast to linger in the Sacramento region through the week, air quality management districts in the area are advising people to limit exposure by staying indoors with doors and window shut and avoiding strenuous activity when outdoors.

With smoke in the air, levels of the microscopic pollutant PM 2.5 have been peaking near 200 in the Sacramento region this week. Anything above 150 is considered unhealthy for the general population.

"This is extremely critical for children, the elderly, people who already have pre-existing conditions, either heart or lung problems, because this fine particulate matter not only gets into the lungs, but it is so microscopic that it can get into the bloodstream," said Lori Kobza of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

A basic surgical mask offers no protection from the PM 2.5 particles, Kobza explained. The Sacramento County Department of Public health is advising people against prolonged use of the higher-rated N95 masks.

"You can't wear them for very long without feeling you can't take those deep breaths," said Kobza. "That's the point. It is filtering out but it doesn't let the oxygen in."

While the air pollution in the Sacramento region this week is to be considered unhealthy, serious symptoms from short-term exposure are more likely to develop among people with pre-existing conditions.

"People with asthma or COPD," explained Dr. Marc Ikeda of Kaiser South Sacramento. "It's going to cause shortness of breath. It's can cause burning of the eyes. It can make people's asthma or COPD flare up."

Dr. Ikeda said it appears many people are taking the necessary precautions.

"We haven't seen a humongous influx (of patients) like we were expecting to, but this has been such a big story and so obvious," he said. "You walk outside, it's so hazy and so smoky that people, rightfully so, have been taking it seriously."

"Stay indoors and minimize your activities," Kobza said. "It seems so simple and yet it is effective."