Are kids in danger when wildfire smoke hits, even on 'moderate' days?
The Puget Sound area has seen good, moderate, and dangerous air quality in the last few weeks due to wildfire smoke. Last weekend was especially bad, but many people hit the streets and parks anyway.
The forecast this weekend is for moderate air quality, but even that is a concern, especially for children.
Dr. Catherine Karr is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She puts a fine point on that distinction:
"Kids are not small adults. That's our mantra in children's environmental health," Karr said. "They are growing and developing and their organs are undergoing transformation and development. The lungs are part of that. And the brain is a really important organ that we're starting to see concerns for exposure to air pollutants in children."
Karr said new studies suggest that exposure to higher levels of air pollution in early life may have effects on children's brain development, and lead to behavior problems or cognition problems. She urged parents and caregivers to be aware of how a child is reacting to conditions.
"If you pay attention and are aware of the air quality in your community, and you see on days when it's moderate that your child is coughing or wheezing, they are a more sensitive person, and so indeed you would definitely want to be aware and make changes for that kid," she said.
Changes might include staying inside, building a box-fan filter if you don't have air filtration in your home, setting your car air conditioner to re-circulate, and making sure kids are masked properly.
"Cloth masks do nothing," Karr said.
Karr said it's generally OK for some kids to play outside when the air quality index is in the moderate range, but she cautioned against more vigorous activities that lead to heavy breathing.
Karr noted that if it's safe and comfortable enough to close doors and windows, you can reduce exposure by about 50%. And if you're able to filter your indoor air, that figure rises closer to 80%.
For more information, Karr suggests visiting the following websites: