As the wildfires that have claimed at least 56 lives continue to rage across California, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is reaching out to the relevant government entities in the state, offering resources on wildfire response, assistance and recommendations for protecting the health and safety of residents and recovery workers.
The impact of wildfires on public health, property and the environment is felt by those in the immediate burn zone and can extend several hundred miles away. Communities downwind from the fire may be affected as ash and other smoke components produced by the intense heat of the combustion are lofted into the air and travel great distances by prevailing winds. These potentially hazardous materials remain in and traverse the atmosphere for varying lengths of time, resulting in possible widespread and prolonged public exposures. Wildfire particles can migrate and infiltrate the built environment through open doors and windows, on shoes and clothing, through the ventilation system and through unperceived gaps in the building envelope. Homeowners returning to burned-out residential areas may be exposed to ash that contains toxic metals such as lead, copper and chromium, in addition to potential exposures to asbestos and decomposition products from pesticides and other hazardous materials that may have been stored in the area.
AIHA has a large number of free resources and services that are immediately deployable:
- AIHA's "Health and Safety Issues in Natural Disasters": A guidance document published in 2017 that provides a list of resources for addressing potential hazards during and after floods, tornadoes and wildfires
- AIHA's Wildfire Specific Hazards: Serves as a hub for a number of resources from AIHA and its partners on what to do before, during and after a wildfire has occurred
- AIHA's Consultants Listing: The leading directory of industrial hygiene and other occupational and environmental health and safety consultants. Government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regularly refer consumer inquiries to AIHA consultants for assistance. AIHA's Consultants Listing is also frequently referenced by the media as a source for consumers who are searching for an IH or OEHS consultant.
- "Industrial Hygienists' Roles and Responsibilities in Emergency Preparedness and Response White Paper"
For more information, visit AIHA's Disaster Response Resource Center website.