Even after the fire is no longer a threat, health issues related to disaster are expected to continue for several weeks. Dust and ash is a major health concern. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) is warning residents to take precautions during clean-up following a fire.
Currently, smoke remains an issue. “It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask everyone to be aware of their immediate environment and to take actions to safeguard their health,” said Muntu Davis, Health Officer for Los Angeles County. “Smoke and ash can be harmful to health, even people who are healthy. People at higher risk include those with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults.”
Davis urges everyone in these areas, or areas where there is visible smoke or the smell of smoke, to avoid unnecessary outdoor exposure and to limit physical exertion (whether indoor or outdoor), such as exercise. Children and people who have air quality sensitive conditions, such as heart disease, asthma, and other chronic respiratory diseases, should follow these recommendations and stay indoors as much as possible even in areas where smoke, soot, or ash cannot be seen or there is no smell of smoke. If your condition worsens, contact your health care provider immediately for medical advice.
Once the smoke disperses, ash, soot, dust, and other airborne particles that may have been deposited inside and outside of homes and businesses will continue to be an issue.
“While ash from wildfires is relatively non-toxic and similar to ash that may be found in a home fireplace, it may be irritating to the skin, nose and throat,” a press release from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health states. “Exposure to ash in air might trigger asthmatic attacks in people who already have asthma. Ash and dust (particularly from burned buildings) may contain toxic and cancer causing chemicals, including asbestos, arsenic, and lead. Therefore, in order to avoid possible health problems the following is recommended.”
Pets can also be impacted by smoke, ash and dust. The DPH recommends keeping pets indoors, particularly at night.
“If dogs or cats appear to be in respiratory distress, they should be taken to an animal hospital immediately,” the press release states. “Symptoms of respiratory distress for dogs include panting and/or an inability to catch their breath. Symptoms for cats are less noticeable, but may include panting and/or an inability to catch their breath.”
It’s a good idea to take extra precautions while cleaning up after the fire. Advice includes:
Preventing children from playing in ash, especially in wet or damp ash and bathing pets to rid them of ash. During clean-up, wearing household dish-washing gloves, a long sleeved shirt and long pants can help prevent skin contact with ash. Avoid leaf blowers. Instead, gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor surfaces, followed by wet mopping, is the best way to clean an area with ash. A solution of bleach and water may be used to disinfect an area, if desired. Read label on container for proper use.
Shop vacuums and regular household vacuum cleaners are not recommended to clean up ash. These vacuums do not filter out small particles, but instead blow such particles into the air where they can be breathed. However, HEPA-filter vacuums can filter out small particles and can be used.
A disposable mask with a rating of N-95 or better, which can be purchased from a home/hardware store, can be worn during clean-up to avoid breathing in ash and other airborne particles.
Residents in areas that experienced extended power outages should check for food spoilage. The DPH recommends discarding perishable food items such as meat, dairy products and eggs. Items that have thawed in the freezer should be thrown away. Do not re-freeze thawed food. All other food items should be inspected to ensure safety. Remember, “if in doubt, throw it out.”
LA County has also issued a issued a boil water notice Sunday night for the Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 29’s Point Dume and Encinal Canyon areas and the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District’s customers south of Westlake Village, east of the Ventura County line, north of the City of Malibu and west of Corral Canyon.
All tap water should be boiled for at least one minute before being used, or disinfected with 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach to each gallon of water.