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Wildfire smoke: Do air purifiers help with smoke from fires? People search for answers as air quality plunges

As smoke from Canada wildfires affect areas in the northeastern U.S., people may be wondering if returning to mask-wearing or buying air purifiers will help.

Search results for “smoke masks for fire” rose by +100% as of this writing and a search for “air purifier same-day delivery” was up +250%. Interest by subregions appeared high in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, as “unhealthy” air quality alerts have been prompted for New York City and much of the Northeast.

New York and New Jersey schools kept children inside for recess on Wednesday as people may be wondering how to take precautions against the pouring smog.

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“People haven’t bought masks in quite some time,” he noted, confirming that the N95 masks on the shelf sold out as of Wednesday, around 2:30 p.m. ET. “Today [there] was a little pickup on sales.”

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Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., told Fox News Digital that wildfires can release “dangerous pollutants into the air,” which is what causes the air quality to drop to unhealthy levels. 

Johnson-Arbor suggested wearing an N95 mask when outdoors or in areas with heavy smoke or pollution” for protection amid the wildfires.

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“Traditional face masks won’t protect you against wildfire smoke,” Johnson-Arbor said. Stay indoors if possible. If you have underlying heart or lung problems, use air filters or portable air cleaners. Also, keep doors and windows closed, including when in your car.”

“Check, and if needed, replace your home HVAC filters,” he said. “Stay indoors as much as possible and look into getting air masks or respirators.”

amazon mask purchases

Shown is a screenshot of an Amazon search result on June 7, 2023, as the Canada wildfires spread smoke across parts of the United States. (Fox News Digital)

“Your implementation of these four [steps] will be directly related to how close you are to the front line versus being in the thick of it, literally,” Lambert continued. “In the end, every entry point, filter and seal will play a part.”

Air purifiers, which Ready.gov calls “portable air cleaners” or “filters,” are mentioned as potential safety tools in a disaster response kit, according to the agency’s wildfire preparedness website.  

“Use high-efficiency filters in your central air conditioning system to capture fine particles from smoke. If your system has fresh air intake, set the system to ‘recirculate’ mode and close the outdoor intake damper,” the article continued.

While the site also recommends households have an air purifier handy in case of wildfires or another disaster that can cause air pollution, the emergency response website doesn’t say air purifiers are an absolute must.

Be air aware: Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) at https://t.co/MUueI4ZoxC and adjust your outdoor activities to reduce your exposure to harmful air pollutants. 

Enjoy the outdoors when the air is healthy. Stay inside as much as possible when it’s not. pic.twitter.com/QkfbxLcGEq

— HHS.gov (@HHSGov) June 7, 2023

“Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities,” the website notes. “For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips.”

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Being prepared with an emergency kit can minimize a person’s chance of having to take “unnecessary excursions,” which alleviates burdens on urgent care centers and hospitals, according to Ready.gov.

Wildfires and masks: Should you wear one?

Dr. Jie Zhao, executive vice president and head at Delos Labs in New York City, a data-driven wellness living company, told Fox News Digital that it’s not always possible to leave an area with wildfire smoke, but people can wear face masks to protect themselves from smoke inhalation.

Ready.gov agrees with the suggestion and advises Americans to pack N95 masks in natural disaster emergency response kits.

man walking dogs in New York

Smoke from the Canada wildfires turned the atmosphere an orange hue. “Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation or limit your exposure to smoke,” says Ready.gov on its wildfire preparedness webpage. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

The government agency recommends N95 respirator masks because the facial accessory is designed to filter out particles in the air for wearers.

“Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation or limit your exposure to smoke,” Ready.gov advises in its online wildfire preparedness webpage.

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