DPH Warns Residents About Health Effects of Ash From Wildfires
California public health officials are warning tens of thousands of residents who are returning to areas affected by two large wildfires about health risks associated with the debris, CBS SF Bay Area reports (CBS SF Bay Area, 9/20).
Background on Fires
More than 23,000 Californians were displaced by the wildfires burning south of Sacramento and north of San Francisco. As of Tuesday, about 138,660 acres were consumed by the two fires.
Mark Bove, senior research meteorologist at reinsurance firm Munich Reinsurance America, said the fire near San Francisco is on track to be the most destructive in the state -- when measured by insurance costs -- since 1991 (California Healthline, 9/17).
Details of Health Warning
In a release, the state Department of Public Health warned that while ash from trees and other vegetative matter usually is non-toxic, certain substances -- such as asbestos and chemicals -- can be found in ash from burned homes and commercial structures. According to DPH, those substances can be toxic to individuals who touch them with wet skin or inhale them, resulting in:
- Asthma attacks;
- Chemical burns;
- Coughing; or
- Irritation of the lungs, nose and throat (CBS SF Bay Area, 9/20).
DPH recommended that residents:
- Avoid using leaf blowers, shop vacuums or other cleaning equipment that could push ash into the air;
- Clean ash off of pets;
- Keep children from playing in the debris; and
- Wear protective gear to prevent skin contact with ash.
DPH Director Karen Smith said, "It's good news that many of the evacuation orders have been lifted or will be lifted in the near future, but residents should be aware of potential health hazards as officials work to carefully repopulate the burned areas and the clean-up and rebuilding process begins." Smith added, "Children are especially at risk for health impacts" (DPH release, 9/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.