San Francisco Bay Area Air Pollution: Spare the Air Alert Issued Due to Smoke From Kincade Fire, Other California Fires

A "Spare the Air" air quality alert is in effect across the Bay Area today, following the ongoing threat of smoke from recent California wildfires.

The alert was issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) "due to smoke impacts from local wildfires. Avoid smoke exposure by staying indoors, if possible. Follow evacuation orders & instructions from local health officials to protect your health," according to a post on the official Twitter feed for Spare the Air.

"Currently, smoke from the Kincade Fire and other local fires is mostly being pushed over the Pacific Ocean due to strong winds or is aloft over the region – localized impacts closest to the fire continue. However, winds are expected to shift to the northwest starting Monday afternoon and smoke is expected to impact the entire Bay Area, especially the North Bay, San Francisco and the East Bay," BAAQMD confirmed in an official statement released yesterday.

"Air quality is expected to be unhealthy Monday due to smoke from the Kincade Fire and potentially other local fires," Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air District, said in the statement.

"It is critical that residents follow evacuation orders and instructions from local health officials to protect their health," he added.

Spare the Air Alerts are usually issued between April and October, when warmer temperatures and longer days can cause ozone or particulate matter pollution to reach unhealthy levels, the Spare the Air website notes.

"If the smell of smoke is present or visible, it is important that Bay Area residents protect their health by avoiding exposure.If possible, stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside. If temperatures are too hot indoors, visit an air-cooling center, library, movie theater or other building that provides filtered air. It is also recommended that Bay Area residents set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside," BAAQMD advised in its statement.

Kincade Fire Windsor California October 2019
A car waits for a traffic light while being enveloped in smoke from the nearby burning Kincade Fire in Windsor, California on October 27, 2019. The Bay Area Air District warns that smoke from the Kincade Fire is being pushed over the Pacific Ocean due to strong winds or is aloft over the region. Getty Images

"Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a dry scratchy throat and irritated sinuses. Elevated particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema or COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. Elderly persons, children and individuals with respiratory illnesses are particularly susceptible to elevated air pollution levels and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure," BAAQMD warned in its statement.

The Spare the Air website also notes the elevated risk among healthy adults of all ages who are active and either exercise or work vigorously outdoors due to their high level of exposure.

"Exercise causes people to breathe faster and more deeply, drawing more air into the lungs. In the case of ozone, the risk of serious effects is heightened in the afternoon hours. It's better to exercise in the morning or evening when ozone concentrations are expected to be less elevated," the website states.

The Bay Area Air District has removed the AirNow air quality map from its website due to technical issues that caused incorrect readings. Residents are instead advised to check real-time air quality readings at the BAAQMD website.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) measures pollution concentration levels and is used to determine when air quality is forecasted to reach unhealthy levels.

"Based on federal air quality standards, the AQI includes measures for six major air pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and two sizes of particulate matter," the Spare the Air website states.

"Each AQI number refers to specific amounts of pollution in the air. For most of the six pollutants represented by the AQI chart, the federal standard corresponds with a number of 100. If the concentration of a pollutant rises above 100, air quality can be unhealthy for the public," it adds.

Public transit, carpooling, or biking are among the changes in activity than can help improve air quality year-round and these actions are crucial during periods when a Spare the Air alert has been issued, the alert's website notes.

Residents who may potentially be affected can also sign up for text alerts by texting the word "START" to the number 817-57 or see www.baaqmd.gov/txtalert for more information, as well as register for email AirAlerts at www.sparetheair.org, call 1(800) HELP-AIR, download the Spare the Air App or connect with Spare the Air on Facebook or Twitter," the BAAQMD statement advises.

Newsweek has contacted the California Air Resources Board and California's Coalition for Clean Air for further comment on the latest impact of the wildfires on air quality in California.

San Francisco Bay Area Air Pollution: Spare the Air Alert Issued Due to Smoke From Kincade Fire, Other California Fires | News