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CDPH


Environmental Health Investigations Branch -
California Department of Public Health

Priority Groups for Distribution of Particulate Respirators to Protect from Wildfire Smoke

Please share this information widely.

California Department of Public Health - October 12, 2017

Wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Inhalation can cause coughing or wheezing, and difficulty breathing. People with lung or heart disease are at highest risk for adverse health effects. During wildfire smoke emergencies, the primary means of health protection should be to avoid smoke exposure by staying indoors or limiting time spent outdoors. This is particularly important for people at higher risk.

For those who cannot avoid being in a smoky environment, the use of particulate respirators, sometimes referred to as "N95 masks," can help reduce exposure. Specifically, users should select N95 or P100 filtering facepiece respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Effective use relies on selecting a size and model that will provide a tight seal between the respirator and user's face.* N95 or P100 respirators can help to filter out particles, but they do not remove irritating chemicals contained in smoke.

If supplies of particulate respirators are limited during a wildfire emergency, the following groups should be prioritized for respirator use:

  1. People who must work or be outdoors in the smokiest environments (highest Air Quality Index) for long duration (e.g., full-time work shifts or longer), and either perform heavy exertion or have underlying lung or heart disease.
  2. People who must work or be outdoors in the smokiest environments for long duration (e.g., full-time work shifts or longer).
  3. People who must be in the smokiest environments for shorter duration (e.g., a few hours), particularly those that perform heavy exertion or have underlying lung or heart disease.
  4. People who must work or be outdoors in smoky environments with a lower Air Quality Index.

For more information on the use of N95 or P100 respirators for protection from wildfire smoke:

http://www.bepreparedcalifornia.ca.gov/ResourcesAndLinks/Languages/Documents/English/ENG_ProtectLungsSmoke7208color.pdf

*When respirator use is required in workplace environments, a process called "fit testing" must be performed annually to ensure an adequate face seal for individual users. In an emergency situation, N95 or P100 particulate respirators may help to reduce exposure when selected for tight fit.

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