Pol­lu­tion: Smoke spews dan­ger­ous tox­ins across the Bay Area, foul­ing air, cre­at­ing health haz­ards

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Erin All­day

The air qual­ity in much of the Bay Area this week has at times been com­pa­ra­ble to — or even worse than —Bei­jing, one of the most no­to­ri­ously pol­luted cities in the world, as smoke from the Wine Coun­try wild­fires drifts south and set­tles over the re­gion.

Smoke-choked res­i­dents wore masks while bik­ing or walk­ing to work, and even on BART trains and in­side of­fices. Schools kept rest­less stu­dents in­doors all day, or can­celed classes al­to­gether. A hun­dred miles from the fires, peo­ple showed up in emer­gency rooms say­ing they were hav­ing trou­ble breath­ing.

The brown-hued sun­light, ash fall­ing like snow, and a per­sis­tent camp­fire smell are the ob­vi­ous signs of heavy pol­lu­tion. But more con­cern­ing are the in­vis­i­ble, nox­ious par­tic­u­lates car­ried in the smoke. Th­ese mi­cro­scopic par­ti­cles are eas­ily in­haled and can make their

Ri­ley Fones, 4, wears a mask to pro­tect her from smoke en­gulf­ing Santa Rosa. Chil­dren are es­pe­cially at risk be­cause their lungs are still de­vel­op­ing.

way deep into the lungs, caus­ing dam­age to the del­i­cate tis­sue.

The poor air qual­ity prompted wide­spread pub­lic health ad­vi­sories, es­pe­cially di­rected at peo­ple who al­ready have res­pi­ra­tory problems like asthma or em­phy­sema and who can have se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions from in­hal­ing smoke. Peo­ple with heart con­di­tions may also be at in­creased risk of heart at­tack or stroke from exposure to par­tic­u­lates.

But oth­er­wise healthy peo­ple also can suf­fer. Smoke pol­lu­tants can cause eye, nose and throat ir­ri­ta­tion. If peo­ple spend too much time out­side, they may start cough­ing, or de­velop a headache or over­all fa­tigue.

“This is def­i­nitely im­pact­ing ev­ery­body,” said Dr. Thomas Dai­ley, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of pul­monary medicine at Kaiser Santa Clara. “Pa­tients with em­phy­sema and COPD (chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease) and asthma are hav­ing short­ness of breath or other ex­ac­er­ba­tions. Even pa­tients who don’t have un­der­ly­ing lung con­di­tions are re­port­ing that their chests feel tight and they’re cough­ing more.”

Hospi­tals around the Bay Area have re­ported upticks in peo­ple with symp­toms like breath­ing dif­fi­culty, se­vere cough­ing or tight­ness in their chest. Solano County alone re­ported that 23 peo­ple sick­ened by the pol­lu­tion had been treated in emer­gency rooms. Dozens of schools around the re­gion have can­celed classes for the re­main­der of the week.

Out­door ex­er­cise is es­pe­cially ill-ad­vised. When peo­ple work out, they breathe faster and usu­ally through their mouth in­stead of their nose, all of which in­creases the amount of pol­lu­tants they in­hale. Many school ath­letic pro­grams have can­celed or post­poned games. This week­end, at least four ma­jor run­ning events were can­celed due to smoke, in­clud­ing a half marathon in San Fran­cisco and a 31-mile ul­tra­ma­rathon in Muir Beach.

Bay Area stores that sell air pu­ri­fiers and face masks that block pol­lu­tants have been over­run. Many places in the North Bay have been sold out of masks for days, though sup­plies have been do­nated to many evac­u­a­tion cen­ters. Cole Hard­ware in San Fran­cisco sold out of air pu­ri­fiers about 20 min­utes af­ter get­ting a new ship­ment Thurs­day morn­ing, cus­tomers said.

The worst con­di­tions have been in the North Bay ar­eas con­sumed by smoke. But by Thurs­day af­ter­noon, as 21 blazes raged statewide, air qual­ity in the East Bay, San Fran­cisco and other pock­ets around the re­gion was also ter­ri­ble, ri­val­ing a typ­i­cal af­ter­noon in Bei­jing, ac­cord­ing to Richard Muller, a UC Berke­ley physics pro­fes­sor who cre­ated a map that com­pares air-qual­ity lev­els around the world.

The air-qual­ity in­dex, a num­ber that takes into ac­count sev­eral types of pol­lu­tants, was hov­er­ing around 160 for the Bay Area most of Thurs­day. A healthy level is 50 or lower, which is typ­i­cal for the area; the worst level is 500. The air is ex­pected to re­main un­healthy for at least the next two days, ac­cord­ing to the Bay Area Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment District.

Pub­lic health and air-qual­ity ex­perts ad­vised peo­ple to stay

in­side with doors and win­dows closed when pos­si­ble. Those with pre-ex­ist­ing res­pi­ra­tory and heart con­di­tions should wear masks that block small par­ti­cles when out­side.

Sherry Katz of Berke­ley, who teaches his­tory at San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity, has asthma that in the past has been ex­ac­er­bated by smoky con­di­tions. She’s avoided com­pli­ca­tions this week, she said, largely be­cause she’s been tak­ing pains to keep out of the smoke.

To avoid go­ing out­side, she worked from home sev­eral days, un­til she had to go into the city Thurs­day to teach. When she smelled smoke in her class­room, she switched to a dif­fer­ent build­ing with bet­ter air cir­cu­la­tion. And she wore a mask all day, even while in front of the class.

“I know smoke is a trig­ger for my asthma,” Katz said. “It’s a scary feel­ing when you can’t breathe very well.”

Katz’s hus­band, Dr. John Balmes, stud­ies the health ef­fects of air pol­lu­tants at the Hu­man Exposure Lab­o­ra­tory at UCSF and has spe­cial ex­per­tise in wild­land fire smoke. He’s stud­ied pol­lu­tion in Bei­jing too, and the Bay Area’s air this week has re­minded him of China’s dirty, dusty skies.

Sev­eral days or even a week of smoke exposure prob­a­bly isn’t go­ing to cause chronic health problems in oth­er­wise healthy peo­ple, Balmes said. And even peo­ple who have heart or lung problems al­ready are un­likely to suf­fer last­ing dam­age from the pol­lu­tion.

Still, in­hal­ing small par­ti­cles is never good.

“The pub­lic health mes­sage is: ‘You shouldn’t be out there,’ ” Balmes said. “Why ex­pose your­self to a toxin if you don’t need to?”

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chron­i­cle

Bay Area air qual­ity now as bad as Bei­jing’s

Source: Berke­ley Earth

Maps of par­tiC­u­late mat­ter air pol­lu­tion less than 2.5 miCrons in di­am­e­ter — the most dam­ag­ing form — show that the Bay Area now has lev­els Com­pa­ra­ble with that in China’s no­to­ri­ously pol­luted Cap­i­tal.

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