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Air Quality a Major Concern to Health Officials

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As four major fires burn in the greater Los Angeles region, officials from the LA County Health Department, who raised this week's heat advisory to a heat alert today, want to make sure people stay safe.

"We have two problems in Los Angeles County; each makes the other worse," Dr.
Jonathan Fielding, county health officer, said in opening statements at a press conference this morning. "Summer has finally come." He said the heat exacerbates the fires which in turn worsens air quality.

Whether visible or not, the distinctive odor of the smoke carries pollutants that especially concern Fiedling. They're composed of a number gases: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, the latter which poses a health concern along with larger particles that can go deep into the lung tissue and irritate the eyes. "If you can smell or see it, you're better off to avoid outdoor activities," he said.

The department has recommended that schools suspend athletics and hiking activities. It also recommends for people to stay indoors and to use air conditioning if they can. Those at the greatest risk are the elderly, children and those with conditions that make them sensitive to air quality. If it's too hot indoors, cooling centers have opened across the region (.pdf) or public places such as malls and libraries should be used.

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"If your exercising outdoors, don't do it in the heat of the day. We're concerned about dehydration," Fielding explained. "[And] it should go without saying that if you're in any part of LA County, smoking is not a good idea." He says masks are good for filtering out larger particles, but won't stop smaller particles from entering your lungs.

As for air quality over the weekend, Fielding said it's likely to be continue, but how much he does not know because that will depend on the fires and winds. "Look at your local surroundings, things may change hour to hour, day to day."

As always, never leave anyone, even pets, in unattended vehicles, even with the windows cracked. "We have tragic incidents that happen every year," Fielding lamented.