ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Wildfires burning around the state have made for a pretty smoky summer, and Alaskans are concerned about health. The Anchorage Health Department says air quality will be unhealthy for sensitive groups through the weekend.
One of the ways people can protect themselves from smoke exposure is to wear a respirator. George Sides at Andy's Ace hardware in Anchorage says they've been selling pretty quick.
"We had a long display of them, but we're down to just a few now," said Sides. "Nobody seems to have a mask until they happen and then they're gone really quick, so it's a good idea to get them ahead of time and just store them."
Dr. Joe McLaughlin is the state epidemiologist. He says you want to look for masks that have the word 'NIOSH,' which stands for National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. That means the mask is NIOSH certified. Secondly, you want to check the rating. Dr. Mclaughlin says N95 or P100 ratings are designed to filter out small smoke particles.
In a pinch, some people reach for scarves, or handkerchiefs, but Dr. McLaughlin says those things won't work at all - not even a little bit. Even a regular dust mask won't do the job.
"Dust masks and scarves really don't filter out the fine particulates that come with wood smoke exposure, and so they really don't do anything to protect you against wood smoke," said McLaughlin.
If you're looking for ways to improve the air quality inside your home, you may want to look into getting an air purifier, or if your have a forced air heating system, a 1500-rated air filter.
"And if you do have to be outside, avoid physical exertion as much as you're able," said McLaughlin. "We also recommend that people keep their children from heavy exertion outside. Sometimes children are less aware than adults of signs and symptoms of smoke."
Dr. McLaughlin says anyone can benefit from wearing a respirator in smokey conditions and days under an unhealthy air quality advisory. However, those with underlying heart or lung conditions should consult their healthcare provider first, as respirators can make it a little more difficult to breathe.
He also says you want to make sure it's a snug fit, so make sure to find one with two straps to go around your head and a metal bar on top that you can form around your nose for a tighter seal around your face.
Copyright 2019 KTUU. All rights reserved.