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  • Writer's pictureMillines Herman

Effects of Smoke

The Oxford University Press and defines smoke as a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in the air, typically one emitted from a burning substance (Lexio, 2019). Smoke contains a mixture of chemicals and fine particles. Types of chemicals and different sizes of particles vary, depending on the type of materials being burnt.

Based on research by the EPA, and also supported by the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA), smoke contains toxic air pollutants, which includes formaldehyde, benzene, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) (EPA, 2019). Research has also shown a link with a number of other harmful gases through smoke. New York’s Department of Health posits aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins as other chemicals that can be found in smoke (New York State Department of Health, 2016).

Smoke is filled with particulate matter. Sizes of particulate matter range in sizes form 5.0 microns to as low as 0.25 microns. PM2.5 can be easily inhaled and penetrate the lungs, where Scully of Berkeley Lab states, will contribute to cardiopulmonary and respiratory illnesses (Scully, 2019).

Health Effects of Smoke

Some of the health effects associated with smoke exposure would include shortness of breath, headaches, irritation to respiratory tract, dizziness, heart palpitations, chest pains. More immediate effects may include eye nose and throat irritations, phlegm buildup, nausea, runny nose, mild cough. Persons who are at risks are persons with lung and heart diseases, Immunocompromised persons (older adults and children), persons with diabetes, and pregnant women (AirNow, 2017).

Protect Yourself

During the time of exposure to smoke, it is important that individuals, home and building owners take steps to prevent harm.

  • Individuals should in a closed indoor space, and if individuals are outdoors, it would be safe for them to wear Particulate masks such as the NIOSH N-95 or -100 dust masks and not ordinary paper dust mask.

  • Building and home owners should be mindful that if indoors, that the air conditioning system be turned on. However, the air conditioning system’s filtration system should be able to filter out Particulate Matter lower than 2.5 microns.

  • If smoke permeates the indoor space, it is wise that the indoors undergo smoke remediation to remove particulate matter within the air column, soot, and the odor of smoke from the space.

  • The indoor space should undergo Indoor Air Quality assessments to identify if the space was impacted by smoke and to ensure that the contaminates do not exceed the Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) or Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) of safety for occupants.


  • AirNow. (2017, January). How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from AirNow:

  • EPA. (2019, May 1). Wood Smoke and Your Health. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from United States Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Lexio. (2019). Smoke: Definition by Lexio. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from Lexio Dictionaries | English:

  • New York State Department of Health. (2016, October). Exposure to Smoke from Fires. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from New York State Deparment of Health:

  • Scully, J. (2019, October 25). Improving Indoor Air Quality During Wildfires. Retrieved November 21, 2019, from Berkeley Lab:

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