air pollution, visits to the hospital, what impact have the fumes had?

Ten days after their outbreak, the fires of Landiras and La Teste-de-Buch are still not settled. The Gironde and the Landes are, for the second consecutive day, on particle alert. Motorists were asked to lower their speed.

This Friday, according to Atmo Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the areas affected by the smoke were limited: in Gironde, only the municipalities of the fires and the surrounding area had high levels of PM10 (particles less than 10 micrometers). The alert had to be lifted in the Landes, because the PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations were to be below the regulatory thresholds.

Two people in the emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning

Santé Publique Nouvelle-Aquitaine took stock this Friday of the direct health consequences of the fires. During this period, two people were admitted to the Arcachon hospital center: one on July 16, the other on July 18. Admissions to emergencies for asthma have not significantly increased in Gironde, Dordogne and in Landes.

Remedies for asthma in the emergency rooms of Gironde, Dordogne and Landes.
Public Health France

What is in the smoke from the fires?

Forest fires release two main pollutants: particles and carbon monoxide. But they can also produce carbon dioxide, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides.

Particles are of two types:

  • PM10: less than 10 micrometers, they are retained in the nose and upper airways.
  • PM2.5: less than 2.5 micrometers, these are fine particles, they penetrate deep into the respiratory system to the pulmonary alveoli.

Are the fumes dangerous?

The particles have a “proven impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health and increases the risk of developing lung cancer” according to Atmo Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

Carbon monoxide causes poisoning: headaches, dizziness, even coma and death (at high concentrations).

PM10 from wildfire smoke is known to be emitted as at least as toxic to short-term respiratory health as PM10 from urban sources. It is fragile people, suffering from chronic respiratory pathologies, such as asthmatics, who are the most sensitive to it.

Were the fumes smelled several hundred kilometers away dangerous?

The Regional Health Agency explains this Friday that since the start of the fires, air quality measurements have “revealed that the alert threshold for suspended particles was exceeded at several points in the region, equivalent to intense pollution peaks.”

According to ANSES, during forest fires, “About 80% of the particular mass is fine particles. These characteristics make themselves easily transportable over long distances of up to several hundred kilometers”.

Atmo Nouvelle-Aquitaine specifies that it is not because you smelled a smell of smoke that the smoke carried harmful particles.

What to do with fumes?

The ARS of Nouvelle-Aquitaine recommends, if you are directly exposed to fumes, to wear a mask, as for the Covid. An FFP2 or FFP3 mask is recommended for people at risk.

If you live in more remote areas but the fumes reach you:

  • limiting travel and time spent outdoors
  • with doors and windows closed, ventilate only when conditions permit
  • cover the vents with damp cloths
  • stop the VMC during smoke episodes
  • avoid outdoor physical activities in the area
  • ensure the air quality inside your home
  • closely monitor those at risk

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