The thing about being a small local business is that everyone, from our owners to our stocking clerks, are also residents of the Bay Area. We have family and friends who have lost everything, and we know plenty of people looking for loved ones. We also get the notifications on air quality.
The morning that this tragedy started, our “Mom” Michelle made a call to all three stores about loading up on N-95 masks. Last year she had been the one called when the Marin Ace parking lot filled with Tubbs fire refugees, she had worked tirelessly for 4 days sourcing every mask in the county of Marin to make sure that people could breathe. But as we all know now, this fire is different. As terrible as the Tubbs and Nun fires were (and full disclosure the person writing this lives in Santa Rosa, was evacuated, and had friends who lost everything in those fires) the devastating air quality did not last as long as these have. Over a week after the fire broke out we are still facing some of the most polluted air in the world and unfortunately, we have run out of masks.
So we decided to figure something out to not only help ourselves, our employees and our customers, but we wanted to know how to help the air quality in our homes and what to do until these fires are finally, fully contained. Read on for the best advice that we found.
We not only ordered every mask we could (thanks to Michelle’s forethought) but our general manager Troy took his own pickup, drove to Sacramento, and loaded the truck with every mask he could get his hands on. Unfortunately, as N-95’s lose their ability to keep micro-particles out of the lungs after about 8 hours, we are now out, with little prospect that more will appear in the next day or two. If we find more, we will immediately update our social media pages.
The alternative to masks is to stay inside. With air quality veering from the Orange to the purple range there is not really a safe level of exposure. The CDC has issued the alert that we should avoid going outside unless absolutely necessary, but we all know that even inside, we can taste the smoke even if we can’t see it. So we need to focus on indoor air quality.
Improving indoor air quality:
We will break this down into three categories: If you had time to prep; if you had the chance to get to the store before they sold out; if you are just now trying to figure this out.
If you had time to prep:
Make sure your HVAC system is well maintained and change your filters often.
Buy an air purifier. If you want to know what you should look for the EPA has some good easy to understand guidelines here: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/air-cleaners-and-air-filters-home
Indoor plants can help, but will not do the job all by themselves.
The top five plants as tested by NASA (https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf)are:
Bamboo palm, peace lily, variegated snake plant, florists’ chrysanthemum, and red-edged dracaena. These remove the most toxins but be careful as only the Bamboo Palm is non-toxic to pets.
Stock up on your own supply of N-95 masks when the demand is not high.
This will save the masks during an emergency for those who really need them.
If you had the chance to get to the store before we sold out:
Again, air purifiers are a key, as is making sure that you have fresh filters for everything from you’re air conditioning unit to your air purifier and anything else that uses a filter.
Buy back up filters, and masks if you can.
If you have neighbors/family/friends etc that you know can’t get to the stores in time, purchase these items for them as well. Times like these are why the community is so important to us and we all need to do our part in protecting the community as a whole.
If you are just trying to figure this out:
Okay, there are some things that you can do. Here are our top 5 suggestion:
- Make your own air purifier. This is fairly simple and can clean a medium sized room. You need a box fan, a filter, duct tape. Simply put, just remember that you want the air to flow through the filter before being blown back into the room. Set the fan up by the doorway with the filter taped to the back of the fan, turn the fan on high. The fan will draw the air through the filter, and shoot out clean air. However, this is not as effective as a professional air purifier, and you need to make sure that you have a couple of filters in this supersaturated air so that when the first one turns brown you can easily and quickly replace it. (for instruction we have a video made by “mom” Michelle that makes this easy to see in actions here)
- Don’t make the air quality worse. There are certain things that we take for granted that can cause trouble during an air quality emergency. For instance, don’t vacuum. We know you are thinking that you will suck the ash and soot up but what you are really doing is releasing more particulates into the air in a confined space. Don’t burn anything, really anything this includes things like your gas stove and candles. There are enough pollutants in the air as it is. Find ways to prepare meals that don’t use an open flame.
- Don’t go outside unless you have to, and more importantly don’t make someone else go outside unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even with an N95 mask you only have 6-8 hours of protection. This shortens with strenuous activity or anything else that makes you short of breath! Children should not be sent outside to play, you should not be jogging, and your dog does not need to be walked except for short potty breaks.
- Make sure that you do not ignore symptoms of smoke inhalation. Those with asthma and other cardiovascular disease are especially vulnerable but we are all affected by the smoke differently, if you find yourself suddenly short of breath or faint or any of the things that normally would make you call a doctor, then call your doctor don’t put it down to the smoke and ignore it! Common sense is the key to this if you don’t have any make friends who do.
- Speaking of making friends, if you don’t have an air conditioning system, any way to make an air purifier, and no way to cook without burning, don’t stay home. Go to a shelter or your friend’s/families house until the air quality has improved. Remember the advice above about not allowing the community to break down in times like this, yeah this is why.
For more information try these links:
Protecting Your Dog from Wildfire Smoke and Poor Air Quality