Exposure to wildfire smoke may cause more long-term health problems for people than originally thought. According to years of research, the particulate matter contained in wildland fire smoke is small enough to reach the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.
The impact on wildland firefighters
Wildland firefighters and their employers should be very concerned about this issue as their exposure is generally much greater than the general population's. Wildland fire smoke contains dozens of toxins and carcinogens including carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, herbicides and silica. Researchers are looking at the long-term effects of smoke on wildland firefighters, but data has already shown a higher risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Bandannas are not respiratory protection by any standard and do nothing to protect wildland firefighters against these toxins. Use of better respirators is restrictive and they can't supply clean air for a 12-hour shift. There is no easy answer to this problem.
Educating the public about wildland fire smoke exposure
Exposure to wildfire smoke may lead to worsening of respiratory conditions. Evidence points to the possibility of wildfire smoke triggering heart-related problems such as heart attacks. These health problems can be prevented or eased by staying indoors, using proper indoor filters and, if necessary, also using respirators.
To help public health outreach, the Environmental Protection Agency provides the Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires to help public health officials and others understand and manage the risks of smoke exposure.