By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– San Bernardino County Health Officer Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare advises residents to use caution in cleaning up ash from recent wildfires. The ash deposited by fires is relatively nontoxic and similar to ash that might be found in your fireplace. However, any ash will contain small amounts of hazardous chemicals that may cause various health risks.
In addition, ash may be irritating to the skin, especially to those with sensitive skin. If the ash is inhaled, it can be irritating to the nose, throat and lungs and may cause coughing. Exposure to airborne ash may trigger asthmatic attacks in individuals who already have asthma. Therefore, in order to avoid possible health problems, the following steps are recommended:
- Do not allow children to play in the ash. Wash ash off toys before children play with them. Clean ash off house pets.
- Wear gloves, long sleeved shirts and long pants and avoid skin contact.
- If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible. Some wet ash can cause chemical burns.
- If you have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, wash the fruits or vegetables before eating them.
- Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air.
- Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles. They blow particles out the exhaust into the air where they can be inhaled. The use of shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums is not recommended.
- Well-fitting dust masks may provide some protection during cleanup. A mask rated N-95 or P-100 that forms a seal on you face will be more effective in blocking particles than simple surgical or dust masks. In general, many ash particles are larger than those found in smoke. Thus, wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce, but not completely eliminate, the amount of particles inhaled.
- Anyone with heart or lung disease should consult a physician before using a mask during post-fire cleanup.
- Gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping is the best procedure in most cases.
- Avoid washing ash into storm drains as much as possible.
- Use as little water as possible to wet down ash.
Ash and debris inside burned structures may contain more toxic substances than wildfire ash because of the many synthetic materials present in buildings. For more information, contact the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health at 1 800 722 4777.