Rio Rancho and Sandoval County have had a few fires at both the city and county landfills this year. The fires prompted residents to question just how safe it is to breathe in smoke.
The heat and dry conditions in the state have exacerbated any fires created by nature or by man.
The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) has released guidelines aimed at providing comprehensive protection to safeguard residents from potential health hazards posed by the pervasive smoke.
“Amid the current fire-induced challenges, the health and well-being of our residents remain our top priority,” said Heidi Krapfl, deputy director of the DOH Epidemiology & Response Division.
The cornerstone of the DOH guidelines encourages monitoring of air quality alerts as issued by AirNow.gov. These nationwide alerts are also shown on weather apps on smart phones, major news websites and through broadcast media.
“The guidance we are releasing today empowers individuals to make informed choices that mitigate the potential health risks associated with wildfire smoke. By following these guidelines, we can ensure our communities’ resilience against these hazards,” Krapfl said.
Assessing visibility outdoors with the human eye is a fundamental indicator of whether it is safe to be outside. To aid residents in this, the DOH recommends utilizing the 5-3-1 Method available at nmtracking.org/environment/air/FireAndSmoke.html,
The guidelines outline key actions based on visibility levels:
- If visibility is under five miles, the air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness and they should reduce outdoor activity.
- If visibility is under three miles, young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should stay indoors.
- If visibility is under one mile, the air quality is unhealthy for everyone, and everyone should stay indoors. Unless an evacuation has been issued, stay inside your home, indoor workplace, or in a safe shelter.
According to NM DOH, people with breathing difficulties or heart disease should take precautions when smoke is present. This includes limiting time outdoors, closing windows, turning off swamp coolers and using air conditioners on recirculation mode.
If poor air quality persists, they suggest setting up a clean air room. Instructions are available online. Anyone with asthma should follow their asthma action plan and have quick-relief medicine handy. Individuals with heart disease should be mindful of symptoms such as a fast pulse, shortness of breath or unusual weakness and call your health care provider if you have concerns.
Find comprehensive guidance on distances, visibility and health tips at nmtracking.doh.nm.gov/environment/air/FireAndSmoke.html. Smoke Outlooks can also be tracked at www.wildlandfiresmoke.net/outlooks/.