CDPH Warns Californians of Health Hazards during Wildfire Cleanup

Published October 25, 2017

Ash from homes burned in wildfires likely contains metals, chemicals, and potentially asbestos, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) warns residents of recently burned areas. These items may be toxic if breathed in or touched with wet skin, CDPH says. When inhaled, ash can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs, and may trigger asthma attacks in individuals who already have the respiratory condition. CDPH urges residents to wear N95 or P100 respirator masks, gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when cleaning up ash. Children should not be allowed to play in areas where ash-covered materials are being disturbed. Residents should avoid skin contact with ash and be sure to clean it off pets.

Another important consideration during wildfire cleanup is to avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible, CDPH notes. Residents should use water and a wet cloth or mop to clean items and surfaces. The department urges residents to use HEPA filter vacuums if they are available, as shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums do not filter out small particles. Common vacuum cleaners instead blow such particles out the exhaust into the air where they can be inhaled.

Residents should also avoid breathing wildfire smoke, CDPH warns.

“Smoke from wildfires can cause eye and respiratory irritation and some more serious disorders, including reduced lung function and bronchitis,” the department’s press release reads. “In areas where wildfires are still burning, people should stay indoors and reduce outdoor activity.”

More information on health precautions during wildfires is available on CDPH’s website.