This month the Wildfire Smoke Impacts Advisory Group will convene to improve messaging and provide updated health guidance later in May. In the meantime, Nancy addresses concerns schools have in anticipation of wild fire season in the responses below.
How can our school determine whether or not it is safe to let children outside to play?
The WA State Department of Health provides advisory ratings for Air Quality Conditions along a color-coded scale range: Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy, and Hazardous. First, check local air conditions at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/ and then use this chart.
Activity recommendations are based on the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) index. The WAQA uses the same color-coded categories as the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI), but the WAQA fine particulate matter (PM2.5) categories are set at lower levels of air pollution to be more protective of health. The WAQA shows air quality as poor earlier, with less pollution in the air.
Who decides if school should be closed due to wildfire smoke? If we keep kids inside and have recess activities in the gym while the building is closed-up, can school stay in session?
School closures are the decision of the individual school district, usually in consultation with the local health department.
Wildfires, wood burning, and air stagnation increase the fine particulate matter in the air we breathe. Fine particulate matter travels easily indoors, especially if ventilation systems are drawing outside air into their system. It also comes in through doors, windows, and small openings. Over time, concentrations of fine particulate matter indoors can approach concentrations outdoors.
Schools should reduce inside physical activities once air quality has reached or exceeds the “Unhealthy” category. Increased physical activity requires students to breathe faster, use more oxygen, and produce more CO2. School buildings with enhanced filtration will have improved indoor air quality. Supplemental use of properly sized HEPA-charcoal air filters, have been shown to improve indoor air quality by reducing particulate matter and chemicals in smoke.
Schools prone to smoke events while school is in session might consider obtaining appropriate HEPA air filters. Purchase California Air Resources Board certified HEPA air cleaners appropriately sized for the room and quiet enough to not disrupt teaching.
Our school has established a team lead by our School Safety Contact to prepare for emergency situations, including wild fire smoke. Can you direct us to resources we can use to get prepared?
There are several things school can do to get prepared for Wild Fire Season:
- Download this Fact Sheet which lists things to do before wildfire season and things to do once an emergency has begun.
- Use resources in the Smoke Ready Toolbox to help educate students about the risks of smoke exposure and get them accustomed to steps they should take to protect their health.
- Sign up for my list serve, School Environmental Health and Safety to receive timely updates.
We have several students and faculty members with asthma. What do we need to know to protect them during wildfire season?
Exercising students breathe deeper and more often and take in more air, and more air pollution, into their lungs. Breathing polluted air can cause health problems, including aggravating asthma and other respiratory diseases. Anyone experiencing symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, and dizziness should be seen by a medical provider.
It is crucial for every school to have an Asthma Action Plan for each student or faculty member who is diagnosed with asthma. The Asthma Action Plan for Home & School can be completed by the person’s health care provider and returned to the school’s student health advisor.
Students with asthma should be following their Asthma Action Plan in all Air Quality Conditions. Here are activity guidelines:
- Light Activities: Playing board games, throwing and catching while standing, and cup stacking.
- Moderate Activities: Yoga, shooting basketballs, dance instruction, and ping pong.
- Vigorous Activities: Running, jogging, basketball, football, soccer, swimming, cheerleading, and jumping rope.