What's toxic in fire smoke?
The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. In this blog post, we will discuss toxicity from wild fires and how you can keep your body healthy if exposed to the particulates.
All smoke contains carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter (PM). Smoke can contain many different chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins. The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the burn temperature.
How does smoke impact your health?
Exposure to high levels of smoke should be avoided. Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided. Sensitive individuals, including individuals with cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, immunocompromised, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure.
Even inhaling smoke for a limited amount of time can cause immediate, or acute, side effects. Irritation can be caused to the eyes, nose, and throat. Additionally, it's odor is nauseating to some. Studies reveal at some people exposed to heavy smoke have temporary changes in lung function, which restricts breathing capability.
Carbon monoxide gas and very small particles (fine particles, or PM2.5) are the two major smoke agents that can cause serious health effects. These individual particles are too small to see with the naked eye, and are two and one half (2.5) microns or less in size (25,400 microns equal an inch).
Inhaling carbon monoxide decreases the body's oxygen supply. A decrease in the body's oxygen supply can cause headaches, reduce alertness, and aggravate a heart condition known as angina. Tiny fine particles are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, including respiratory irritation and shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. During increased physical exertion, cardiovascular effects can be worsened by exposure to carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Once exposure stops, symptoms from inhaling carbon monoxide or fine particles generally diminish, but may last for a couple of days.
Long term exposure to smoke can result in chronic health effects. Long term exposure to ambient air containing fine particles has been associated with increases in cardiovascular disease and mortality in populations living in areas with higher fine particulate air pollution. Frequent exposure to smoke for brief periods may also cause long-term health effects.
How to avoid exposure
Avoiding smoky environments is the best way to avoid exposure. If your age or health status places you at greater risk from smoke exposure, it is recommended to speak with your doctor about alternative steps you can take when encountering smoky situations. Anyone with persisting or frequent symptoms that they think are associated with smoke exposure should see their health care provider.
When it is necessary to work in heavy smoke, use appropriate respiratory personal protection equipment (N99 or N95) to reduce exposure to the particles and gases in smoke. However, understand the limitations and cautions associated with respirator use before you use one.
How to eliminate exposure from toxins?
1. Stay indoors.
Health officials say the best option to escape wildfire smoke and reduce toxin exposure. It might get boring to stay inside, especially following COVID quarantine restrictions. Start an art project, work on a home construction project, take a bath, plant some indoor plants, read a book, or pick up a musical instrument. Keep yourself busy inside - your body with thank you.
2. Use an air purifier when inside.Buildings with sealed windows and HVAC systems are best places for clean air. One should have a high quality HEPA filters if possible, especially during fire season. HEPA filters are high efficiency filters that typically capture over 99.5% of all particulate pollution. They're made from either plastic (PP+PET) or fiberglass, and can capture things like pollen, viruses, bacteria, mold and PM2. 5. Diffusion also means they are highly effective at capturing nanoparticles too. During fire season, filters should be changed frequently (at least every month). See below for top air purifiers on the market.
- Molekule Air Purifier
- Levoit Air Purifier
- Alen BreatheSmart Classic Large Room Air Purifier
- Molekule Air Mini+
- Airdog X5
- Blueair Blue Pure 211+
- Honeywell HPA100 True HEPA Allergen Remover
- Austin Air Healthmate
- PARTU Air Purifier
- Dyson DP04 Air Purifier
- Coway Airmega 400 Smart Air Purifier
If the windows in your home are drafty or your home lacks an adequate ventilation system and air filter, you may want to turn to indoor shopping malls.
3. Wear N95 or N99 mask when outside.
While spending time indoors is best for your lungs, this is not practical for everyone. Many people work outdoors, have to step outside for errands, or take public transit. In that case, one should wear a mask. To filter out the harmful particles from the smoke, you'll need an N95 or N99 mask, which can be purchased on Amazon here.
When exposed, how can you detox the toxins from your body?
1. Take Supplements that Bind to Environmental Toxins.
Did you know there are supplements that bind to environmental toxins, such as the ones found in fire smoke? How does these work?
Toxins can build up in our bodies, impeding our ability to heal and making us more sensitive to external agents. Binders for detoxification can help release the toxins in your body. When we detoxify, it important to make sure that the toxins are not only mobilized, but actually leave the body. In order to leave the body, toxins travel through the liver, where they move through the small intestine in the bile. If the toxins are not bound to anything, most of them will get reabsorbed in the gut, and continue to circulate in your body. Binders are substances that bind to toxins to help expel them out of the body. Binders work by attracting or trapping toxins, and eliminating them out of the body through bile.
See below for our favorite environmental toxins binders:
- Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal is literally charcoal from wood, peat, or coconut shell that is ‘activated’ through heating it in the presence of a gas that creates little holes within the charcoal. Linked above, our favorite is an organic version derived from coconut shells. The tiny hols trap the toxins. Since charcoal isn’t absorbable by your body, it passes through the GI tract while taking unwanted toxins with it. It is important to take in the morning or before bedtime on an empty stomach, as it also binds to nutrients and minerals.
- Bendonite Clay: Bentonite clay is a edible clay originating from the volcanoe ash. It soaks up toxins, heavy metals, and other harmful materials.
- GI Detox: made from 75% Pyrophyllite clay – a clay that works by both binding and absorbing chemicals – and 25% activated charcoal.
You can also find binders at your local health store. As always, you should contact your health practitioner before taking any supplement.
2. Support your liver.
Both being exposed to environmental toxins and using binders requires liver support. Support your liver through the following methods:
- Drink plently of water.
- Take a supplement that targets liver detoxification, such as this Gaia Herbs supplement. You can also find liver supplements at your local health store.
- Take Epsom Salt Baths, which help bind to and eliminate toxins and triggers the body's natural detox process. Our Bye Bye Hangover is full of activated charcol and was created to trap toxins - including fire toxins!
- Maintain a healthy diet. Foods that support your liver include green/matcha tea, grapefruit, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, prickly pear, beet juice, brussel sprouts, broccoli sprouts, nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil.
- Use alcohol responsibily.
- Exercise regularly (inside).