Are you experiencing the effects of wildfires in your community? Wildfire smoke can have a detrimental effect on people’s health when participating in outside activities. It can also place additional strain on your HVAC system, possibly resulting in equipment breakdowns or loss. You should consider risks associated with wildfire smoke in your community, how these risks can impact your students and staff, as well as your buildings’ HVAC systems.
- The warm months of the year provide opportunities to hold activities outside with students and permit staff to complete outside work to the facility/grounds. Holding these activities outside when high air quality index alerts are predicted places students and staff at risk of becoming sick.
- Wildfire smoke is a combination of solid particles, toxic gases and water vapor. Breathing this concoction of polluted air can have acute health effects on people.
- Short-term health effects can include sudden allergy or flu-like symptoms, including itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing and congestion, sore throat, lightheadedness, and an overall sick feeling.
- A person with pre-existing cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions can also experience elevated illness.
- Since your building’s HVAC system is designed to circulate “fresh” outside air, your HVAC filters may not be able to adequately capture and filter wildfire smoke.
- When wildfire smoke levels are high, your HVAC filters will likely clog much sooner, which will decrease your building’s airflow and result in lower air quality within your workspace. A filter loaded with heavy particulate can increase energy costs and cause your HVAC system to work harder; this may cause equipment breakdowns and costly repairs/replacement should the HVAC system fail.
Best Practices/Actionable Item:
Consider the following best practices/actionable items to minimize health risks to staff and students when air quality indexes (AQI) are poor during wildfire exposure in your community:
- Consult the Air Quality Index (AQI) Chart: To determine whether outside activities pose a health risk to students or staff.
- Avoid Outside Activities: Although the ambient temperature may be comfortable, the AQI takes into account pollutants that may not been seen. Due to the health risks and possible liability of exposing students and staff to the acute health hazards of high AQI levels, all summer programs or outside activities should be canceled or moved indoors.
- Stay Inside: Hold all activities inside the school building. Keep all doors and windows closed during this time to prevent smoke/pollutants from infiltrating the building.
- HVAC System: The preventative maintenance protocol for changing your HVAC filters is typically stipulated by a “normal use” of exposure. You should follow the HVAC manufacturer’s suggested filter replacement schedule; extended periods of wildfire smoke exposure or poor AQI levels may require more frequent filter changes . Monitor your HVAC system each day and be sure to check or change your filters more frequently to ensure your HVAC system continues to operate effectively.
Are you experiencing wildfire smoke in your community right now? Be sure to review the risks associated with your school’s exposure to the wildfire smoke to protect peoples’ health and keep your building’s HVAC systems operating effectively. To monitor the air quality in your community, visit airnow.gov.