Based in the Bay Area, WLK is Mikee and Jo — working parents of two loving and kind kids. They love sharing stories and tips at the intersection of work, life and kids.

Managing toxic dust and smoke for asthmatics

Managing toxic dust and smoke for asthmatics

Full disclosure: I’m not a ventolin-carrying asthmatic. I have the type of asthma that gets triggered whenever I fall sick or if my throat is irritated. With the very unfortunate Camp Fire in California, my asthma is threatening to be unleashed. I’m hacking but not too bad yet. Emmy came home from school complaining that her eyes hurt, but other than that, we are mostly okay.

But here’s the deal as to why we need to take this seriously moving forward. Toxic dust is now in the air. It’s not just smoke from forest fires... think about what else has been burned down: schools, vehicles, labs, garages, metal structures, asbestos, etc. Now reflect upon the post 9/11 fallout. We’ll be cleaning our air (and potentially water) for months/years to come. I’ll keep this post  updated as I learn more but meanwhile here are some of the most pertinent tips and hopefully sheds some light into why most schools are closed today.

  1. Stay indoors. Can’t stress this enough. I’ve opted to work from home today because I need to park myself next to an air purifier. Research has found that for short-term exposure, for every 10-μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 exposure there was a 2.8% increase in PM-related mortality.
  2. Get an air purifier for every room. This is what we picked: Coway Smart Air Purifier ($200~) is #1 rated on wirecutter. It covers a large square footage and has the best specifications I seen. No, it doesn’t “destroy” the allergens like the Molekule ($700+) claims to do but at least we (aka my husband) don’t have to worry about any potential longer-term dangers of nanotechnology. Coway’s industrial design is also decent. It doesn’t look like I have a computer server in my living room. If you’re worried about the ionizer in the Coway, wirecutter’s second pick is the Austin Air MH-400 ($500+ made in USA). And since they’re all backordered even this basic  $80 Levoit air purifier will do the trick. Essentially you need true HEPA that can filter out PM 2.5 

    If you can’t afford one, make it with DIY HEPA filters for $25 Watch this video  

  3. For added air purification consider functional air-cleaning plants like spider plant or snake plant. I wouldn’t use them as your primary defense (tertiary at best) against smoke but many of them are known to clean the air from common toxic pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene and and xylene.

  4. Check your home’s HVAC system: What filters are you using? When were they replaced/cleaned? Some filters can remove very fine particulate. If you’re not feeling comfortable indoors, check your filter quality and make sure all your windows/doors are tightly sealed. If you want to make sure, you can order a air quality laser particle detector meter ($80+) to double check. 

  5. If you have to go outside, get Standard 3M N95 particulate respiratory masks. Do not get anything rated under N95. I would stock up on these in case you see others in need like the homeless. Some fire stations are giving them out for free but they were out as of yesterday in my neighborhood according to local sources. Try home depot or call to your local paint shop/hardware shop. *Read respiratory mask usage warning below.

  6. If you like something more comfortable and of industrial quality, the construction industry recommends Vogmask. It also comes in cute designs that would make the kids more want to wear it. N95 Vogmask small (kids 25-50 lbs), N95 Vogmask medium (kids over 50 lbs), N95 Vogmask organic large (adults)

  7. You can hack an adults mask to fit a kid: If you can’t procure kids sized masks, try this tip I found in a moms group: “I suggest you fold the nose over so it fits better. Put a piece of wide tape over the metal so it doesn’t scratch the skin, and do an inverse fold on the nose so it forms in the opposite direction. It will work.

  8. If you’re ultra sensitive, vogmasks also make N99 vegan leather masks. And if you really need to be outdoors, consider something in more heavy duty like this 3M beast. Not cheap but it will do the job.

  9.  Check your kids schools and your workplace. Do not assume that they’re safe if there’re indoors. Do all windows and doors have tight seals? What are their policies? What’s their HVAC system like? If you’re not comfortable if their buildings are equipped to deal with current AQI, by all means, keep the kids home! Or better still, rally the PTA troops to buy air purifiers for every classroom. (Also helps when the husband is a room parent!)

    These are the questions to ask your employer: (It turns out I don’t have to be an expert in everything, just need friends who are ! Thank you, Erin!)

    1. What is the building’s MERV rating? (You’re aiming for a minimum of 13)

    2. Are we recycling air or not? (Recycling is good, but only good as how well the filtration system is)

    3. How often is air quality being tested? And when/what were the results of the last test?

  10. Masks will not protect you, if you don’t use it right. Bearded men for example, literally have no protection even when wearing a mask! Read this thoroughly to ensure you’re actually being protected. Never use a rectangular hospital masks - they do not provide ANY protection against wildfire smoke.


So, your kids going stir crazy indoors?

I’ve made obstacle courses at home with random boxes and stuff but this kids stationary bike is brilliant. If we had space in our home, we would have one. Here’s its genius: the longer/harder the kids pedal, the more educational content/games they get to see on the iPad (not included). It’s a big hit with the peloton moms I know.

Let’s take a step back

I know, this is nothing compared to the 52,000 people forced to flee Butte county and so many who have lost their homes and loved ones in Paradise. What they need most right now is money, not blankets. The quickest way to get money into the hands of people that need it most is through crowd-funded campaigns (Thanks, Emily!) . And here are more traditional ways to donate . Don’t forget to watch out for the elderly, poor, homeless, sick, service people in your neighborhoods. If they don’t have a mask, give them one and show them how to use it. My 5yo and I canvassed the neighborhood yesterday as she watched me give out masks and her reflection was “Not everyone has masks or a home. We have to help them!”.

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