Wildfire smoke: Do air purifiers help with smoke from fires?

People search for answers as air quality plunges. As smoke from Canada wildfires affect areas in the northeastern U.S., people may be wondering if returning to mask-wearing or buying air purifiers will help.

Wild Fire Smoke in the city

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Search results for “smoke masks for fire” rose by +100% as of this writing, and a search for “air purifier same-day delivery” was up +250%. Interest by subregions appeared high in New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, as “unhealthy” air quality alerts have been prompted for New York City and much of the Northeast.

New York and New Jersey schools kept children inside for recess on Wednesday as people may be wondering how to take precautions against the pouring smog.

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“All the school activities are canceled for tonight,” a resident of Long Island, New York, told Fox News Digital on Wednesday.

“My wife just picked up kids [and] this is happening, and the moms at the bus stop were wearing masks,” he said. “They weren’t wearing masks since the last few months after COVID.”

Canadian wildfires continue to pour smoke along the East Coast of the U.S., and Americans appear to be searching for ways to stay safe as people Google “air purifiers.” (Getty Images)

The man, named Jimmy (he requested that his surname be omitted for privacy reasons), is an employee of a pharmacy on southern Long Island. He said mask sales have slowed post-pandemic — until today.

“People haven’t bought masks in quite some time,” he noted, confirming that the N95 masks on the shelf sold out as of Wednesday, around 2:30 p.m. ET. “Today [there] was a little pickup on sales.”

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Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., told Fox News Digital that wildfires can release “dangerous pollutants into the air,” which is what causes the air quality to drop to unhealthy levels.

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“Some of these pollutants are microscopic in size, and after they are inhaled, they can pass from the lungs into the bloodstream,” Johnson-Arbor said.

“While poor air quality can affect everyone, certain people are more susceptible to the harmful effects of breathing in polluted air,” she added.

“People who have asthma, heart disease, or other serious illnesses may experience worsening of existing symptoms or may develop new symptoms after breathing in polluted air.”

Johnson-Arbor suggested wearing an N95 mask when outdoors “or in areas with heavy smoke or pollution” for protection amid the wildfires.

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“Traditional face masks won’t protect you against wildfire smoke,” Johnson-Arbor said. “Stay indoors if possible. If you have underlying heart or lung problems, use air filters or portable air cleaners. Also, keep doors and windows closed, including when in your car.”

A box of N95 masks is purchased from a local Long Island pharmacy amid the Canada wildfire smoke spreading to parts of the United States. An employee at the pharmacy told Fox News Digital that he hadn’t seen so many masks be purchased since the days of the pandemic. (Fox News Digital)

Here’s what health and filtration experts have to say about air purifiers and face masks, in addition to wildfire safety guidance from Ready.gov, an emergency preparedness website run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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Keith Lambert, a 30-year pollution control veteran from Corona, California, president of Oxidizers, Inc., an abatement company, has participated in air cleaning projects for major transportation, food, and defense companies. He is a proponent of air purifiers for at-home wildfire response kits.

Lambert recommends that people look into buying indoor air filters and filter replacements in order to reduce harmful particles from the air, he told Fox News Digital.

“Check, and if needed, replace your home HVAC filters,” he said. “Stay indoors as much as possible and look into getting air masks or respirators.”

Shown is a screenshot of an Amazon search result on June 7, 2023, as the Canada wildfires spread smoke across parts of the United States. (Fox News Digital)

“Your implementation of these four [steps] will be directly related to how close you are to the front line versus being in the thick of it, literally,” Lambert continued. “In the end, every entry point, filter, and seal will play a part.”

Air purifiers, which Ready.gov calls “portable air cleaners” or “filters,” are mentioned as potential safety tools in a disaster response kit, according to the agency’s wildfire preparedness website.

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The site advises that people set up an air purifier in a closed-off room that’s separated from the outside air, which will allow the purifier to clean the air.

Smoky haze from Canadian wildfires blankets a neighborhood on June 7, 2023, in the Bronx borough of New York City. People have been searching on Google for “air purifiers” as well as topics related to mask wearing. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

“Close all doors and windows. Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions exist,” Ready.gov states.

“Use high-efficiency filters in your central air conditioning system to capture fine particles from smoke. If your system has fresh air intake, set the system to ‘recirculate’ mode and close the outdoor intake damper,” the article continued.

While the site also recommends households have an air purifier handy in case of wildfires or another disaster that can cause air pollution, the emergency response website doesn’t say air purifiers are an absolute must.

“Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities,” the website notes. “For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips.”

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Being prepared with an emergency kit can minimize a person’s chance of having to take “unnecessary excursions,” which alleviates burdens on urgent care centers and hospitals, according to Ready.gov.

Wildfires and Masks: Should You Wear One?

Dr. Jie Zhao, executive vice president and head at Delos Labs in New York City, a data-driven wellness living company, told Fox News Digital that it’s not always possible to leave an area with wildfire smoke, but people can wear face masks to protect themselves from smoke inhalation.

“Wearing a mask can help to an extent, but most masks, such as surgical or regular cloth masks, are not very effective,” said Zhao.

“A properly fitted N95 mask is the only type of mask that can meaningfully reduce the amount of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that you inhale,” he said.

Ready.gov agrees with the suggestion and advises Americans to pack N95 masks in natural disaster emergency response kits.

Smoke from the Canada wildfires turned the atmosphere an orange hue. “Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation or limit your exposure to smoke,” says Ready.gov on its wildfire preparedness webpage. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

The government agency recommends N95 respirator masks because the facial accessory is designed to filter out particles in the air for wearers.

“Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation or limit your exposure to smoke,” Ready.gov advises in its online wildfire preparedness webpage.

If a person is living in a wildfire-affected area but has not been ordered to evacuate, Ready.gov recommends staying inside a “safe location” or “community building” where smoke levels are low.

Fox News Digital’s Melissa Rudy contributed to this report.

Nicole Pelletiere is a senior editor on the lifestyle team at Fox News Digital.

Originally posted here – https://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/wildfire-smoke-do-air-purifiers-help-smoke-fires-people-search-answers-air-quality-plunges