Prepping for Air Quality Problems

A recent news article on massive smoke and haze from fires in Indonesia got me thinking about how similar problems might occur in the U.S. and what we might do about it.

“Toxic fumes from the Indonesian fires that have spread a choking haze across Southeast Asia may be doing more harm to human and plant health than officials have indicated, scientists measuring the pollution say.”

“…harmful gases in the air including ozone, carbon monoxide, cyanide, ammonia, formaldehyde, nitric oxide and methane.”

Similar fires have occurred in the U.S., but on a smaller scale. Wildfires in California and also in Florida have been known to cause air quality problems. So much smoke is produced that it hangs in the air for days or weeks. And if you live in an affected area, what can you do? Breathing is not optional.

Face masks

Those soft surgical masks are useless in this situation. Surgeons wear them only to protect the patient from bacteria in the surgeon’s breath. That type of mask does not provide much protection for the wearer.

The better option is an N95 mask, which is used by workers needing protection from fine particulate matter at a worksite. “This product filters at least 95% of airborne particles” — hence the name. The mask will filter out particles as small as a single micron. N95 masks with an exhale valve allow for easier breathing, but do not provide greater protection.

The high-quality more expensive version of an N95 mask with valve is still relatively cheap: Here’s one at Amazon.com. Expect prices to rise sharply, one the SHTF.

Car Air Quality

If the air quality is only a problem at certain times or in certain places, you can simply shut off the air vents. But if you have to run the heat or the A/C, that approach will not work.

Replacement air filters are available for many vehicle makes and models, which offer a higher efficiency of air purification than the stock filters. Consider getting one with activated carbon. Buy several of them. The worse the quality of the air, the shorter the life span of the filter.

You can also keep a few extra N95 masks in your car’s prepping kit, in case the air quality takes a dive while you are on the road.

Home Air Quality

Unfortunately, most homes have woefully inadequate air filters on their heating/cooling systems. The one in my house is a loosely spaced plastic mesh. It stops almost nothing from getting into the house air. You can buy better filters at any Home Depot or Lowe’s, but their effectiveness is limited. The problem is that homes need a great deal of air, and the more air you move through a filter, the less effective it will be at stopping small particles. You can buy air vent filters that go over each vent, but these greatly reduce air flow.

I would suggest buying the better air filter for your heating/cooling system, and forgo the air vent filters. Then get a couple of large HEPA room air purifiers. If things get really bad, you can close off some rooms of your house, and filter as much of the indoor air as possible with the air purifiers.

More Reading

WebMD: Outdoor Pollution and Lung Function Effects.

CDC: Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

– Thoreau

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