Summer Recap: Here's What's Up with Wildfires

i.e. another way climate change is screwing with our health

Remember how bad the wildfires in the western United States were this year? Maybe you're worried that summer is never going to be the same with the constant air quality warnings? If you're like most people, you're probably a little concerned. And rightfully so! For instance, even if you weren't in California during the wildfires this year, you might have still felt the effects of the wildfires. While it doesn't seem the most direct, wildfires that occur far away still affect the environment you are living in. Climate change is playing a huge role in the number of wildfires and the length of the wildfire season that we're seeing and will be seeing - here's why.

Here's how climate change affects wildfires

In areas that traditionally are warmer, climate change is turning up the heat. There are basically three ingredients that are needed to make a wildfire: fuel, hot wind and some sort of ignition to start the wildfire. Scientists know for sure that climate change affects two of the three ingredients (fuel and hot wind). The increasing temperatures that climate change is bringing makes for hotter weather which then, in turn, dries out more of the vegetation in an area, making it the perfect fuel for a fire (1). The increasing temperatures also ensure that the wind blowing in these areas are hot and dry, the perfect type of wind for spreading a wildfire. In some areas, an earlier snowmelt is also resulting in drier summers – which I'm sure you get it by now – is pretty bad news!

Wildfire and health? Here's the stitch!

Wildfires, as you can probably guess, are not good for you! Wildfires pollute the air with toxic gases, hydrocarbons and oxygenated organics (2). The pollution created, especially if they are small particles (which we call PM 2.5), can travel deep inside your lungs and cause oxidative stress which damages the lungs (2). Oxidative stress is odd to think about, but basically, it's like your cells being overwhelmed. Studies have also shown that wildfires have a direct effect on respiratory diseases; the more wildfires there are, the more people will experience respiratory diseases or a worsening of symptoms (think things like difficulty breathing and more coughing) (2). These situations are even worse for people who already have difficulties, like those living with asthma. And while it is most definitely worse for those who are close to the fires, as we saw with the most recent 2018 wildfires, smoke can spread far and wide. That means that respiratory effects can still be a worry for those living hundreds or even thousands of miles away (8). NASA suggests watching for orange or red sunsets which could be a sign that there is smoke in the atmosphere (8).

For those who have lived near wildfires, mental health is often also affected. Anxiety, fear, and grief are common emotions that are felt during and in the aftermath of wildfires (2). This is partially due to the unknowns of the fire, but also has to do with the isolation felt from being trapped inside because of air quality considerations and not being able to go about a normal daily routine. This is all on top of the direct worry of how close the fire may be to their home. No matter how you slice it, wildfires definitely take both your physical and mental health for a wild ride!

What the future of wildfires will look like for the United States

Basically, wildfires are going to have both direct and indirect effects on our lives. Places that generally are at risk for wildfires (a.k.a. Northern California and the PNW more generally) are going to experience more wildfires, whereas areas that traditionally don't see a lot of wildfires won't really see a spike in wildfires (3). However, wildfires can still increase overall air pollution and release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making climate change (and all the other effects associated with climate change) worse (3). Wildfires also impact drinking water; they can heat up the soil and cause it to release more carbon and nitrogen-containing compounds which then react with the disinfectants used to purify water (4). This creates chemicals that are not good for you! Bottom line: even if you don't live in areas that will be directly affected by an increase in wildfires, there are still indirect effects that can impact your safety and health!

You might want to know who's at risk!

Elderly individuals are at higher risk for two reasons – they have a decreased ability to process inhaled chemicals and they have a higher baseline prevalence of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Some studies have also indicated that females have a harder time with wildfires because they usually have smaller and more reactive airways (6). This is true for children under the age of 4 as well, so, you want to make sure your little ones are protected from air pollution (6)!

For those of you who love exercising outside, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but exercising outside during periods of bad air quality is not smart! On these days, you end up breathing in more air pollution than if you were working out indoors. This is because your lungs work harder during exercise, and consequently, take in more pollutants (2). This is one of the only cases where exercising might actually be bad for you!

Some quick tips on how to decrease exposure to pollutants

  • Invest in some quality masks. Regular masks that you buy at the drugstore won't protect you from wildfire pollutants. You'll want to buy N95 or N100 masks, which filter out fine particles, but not hazardous gases (7). Take note though, these masks are not meant for small children since they don't create a proper seal on tiny faces!
  • Stay indoors during wildfires. Like we mentioned before, going outside during days with air quality alerts harms you more than it helps you! Check the air quality, even if you're not by where the fires are located. Because of how powerful winds are, wildfire smoke from California has made its way across the country to New York before (5)!
  • Look into an air filter. While these babies cost a lot more than an air mask, they can filter out air pollution for a whole room and might be a good investment if you have small children.
  • Do what you can, when you can, to help slow down climate change, like divesting from oil and gas companies and grocery shopping with climate change in mind.



12 Essentials for Packing a Plastic Free Lunch

our favorite reusable items for packing lunch for the kids (and yourself!)

As all the kids are going back to school, it's time to get ready to start getting creative when it comes to packing lunches. While plastic sandwich bags may be convenient, they aren't the healthiest and are only adding to the plastic problem in our oceans. Instead, stock up on some of these lunchbox essentials. They are reusable, washable, and healthier than a bag full of plastic containers. We also have a roundup of general food storage containers you might want to check out.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want more news like this?
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update!
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.

Everyone has their favorite water bottle - a Camelbak with the chewy straw, or a new shiny S'well bottle, or the Hydroflask that keeps your drink icy for days. And, we know that reusable plastic water bottles have some perks- lightweight, see through, indestructible- but they also have one big drawback, the plastic. Plastics, even ones that are BPA free, are often made of chemicals that can seep into water and affect your health. So, that's where this big question comes into play. Do I have to (or should I) ditch my beloved Nalgene with all my stickers from travels throughout the years?

Our answer is - you don't have to pitch it, but it probably shouldn't be your primary bottle either. You can stop reading here and check our our roundup of a dozen glass and stainless steel reusable water bottles if that's enough info for you, or you can keep reading and well give you some tips and nuggets of info on why those tips will make a difference.

Keep Reading Show Less

A Dozen Reusable Water Bottles

Our top picks for glass and stainless steel water bottles

If you've made it here, you probably already know that bottled water isn't great. Plastic in general can also be tough because of the ever popular BPA and it's sister chemicals. So, we collected 12 of our favorite plastic-free, reusable water bottles so you don't have to go hunting. Many of these brands make many types of bottle and cups. Feel free to poke around to find a size or shape that might work better for you, but keep in mind always go for glass or stainless steel. That assures that even if the plastic bottles are BPA free, you won't have to worry about BPA replacements. It's often tough to find bottles without plastic lids, but if the water isn't constantly touching the lid, a plastic lid usually isn't something to get too worried about.

If you have some old plastic reusable water bottles kicking around (who doesn't!) then check out our advice about how to use them safely.

Keep Reading Show Less

Having Trouble Keeping a Healthy Weight?

Here's why chemicals might be keeping you from shedding those last few pounds

If you're eating healthy, getting lots of sleep, but just can't seem to hit a healthy weight, it might be something you've never thought about. Obesogens, a term coined in 2006 to refer to chemicals that cause us to gain and hold on to weight, and can influence weight loss. Now, we know that maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle is influenced by what seems like a bajillion factors, and is a complicated issue with no easy solution. But, it looks like obesogens are a piece of the puzzle and definitely something you want to be aware about. Data shows that obesity is an increasing problem. Over one-third of both adults and children in the U.S. are obese or overweight (1, 5). Even for people who regularly work out or have superhuman strength to say no to desserts, obesogens are having an impact. Unfortunately, as obesogen research is in its early stages, we still don't know everything about these chemicals and how they affect weight gain, but as of now, here's what we do know.

Keep Reading Show Less

Cleaning is important, you should definitely do it. While it can be a not very fun chore, unless you relate to Monica on a spiritual level, it really is something that should be done regularly. Besides germs, cleaning removes all the yucky (and potentially chemically laden) dust and dirt that can collect in your home over time. While it might seem like you should also disinfect your surfaces when you clean to kill any crazy germs that might be hanging out, it's not as necessary as you might think. And, using a strong, commercial disinfectant is definitely not needed or advised. Do you really want to use something all over your home that comes with a huge caution or warning sign on it?

Keep Reading Show Less

Gifts! Gifts! Gifts!

Plastic-free, zero waste, and full of heart

As the holidays start to sneak up on us, we have been pulling together some of our favorite homemade gifts. All of which happen to be plastic-free, zero waste, edible (because food!). Bonus, they are all delicious and help cut down on both the plastic you and your loved ones are exposed to, plus how much ends up in the environment. Not to mention they look really awesome and a homemade gift is a unique way to show you really care. One more benefit, you can pull them together super last minute, get pretty much everything you need at the grocery store (most of it in bulk even) and avoid the heinous parking scene at the mall.

Keep Reading Show Less

Non-Toxic Bassinets and Cosleepers

All well-reviewed and safe for your newborn to sleep in all night (or day) long

*whispers* The baby's asleep! *silent celebrating* And, while the baby is snoozing away, you can actually eat some food and shower. While getting the baby to sleep can be a bit of a headache, figuring out where you will be gently laying them down in the first few months once they are asleep shouldn't be. So, we did all of the hair pulling research to narrow it down to a selection of 8 non-toxic bassinets and cosleepers that parents and experts agree are great options. Without further ado, here are the top picks.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want more news like this?
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update!
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.