Ash from N. California Fires

We got an advisory today that’s worth sharing about cleaning the ash that’s falling all over the bay area from the wildfires. The advisory is from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the California Department of Health Services. Here’s the full PDF. Some of the parts I found interesting [with my comments in square brackets]:

  • Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air. [Note to the local gardening crews!]
  • Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles, but rather blow such particles out the exhaust into the air where they can be breathed. The use of shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums is not recommended. HEPA filter vacuums could be used, if available.
  • The Regional Water Control Quality Board has asked the public to avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible. [Not sure where else it’s likely to go if it’s outside.]
  • When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the building service panel to the “off” position prior to starting the generator. This will prevent inadvertent energization of power lines from backfeed electrical energy from the generators, and help to protect utility line workers from possible electrocution.
  • Excessive noise from equipment such as chain saws, backhoes, tractors, pavement breakers, blowers, and from heavy equipment (e.g., earth moving equipment, helicopters) may cause ringing in the ears and subsequent hearing damage. If working with any noise that you must shout over to be heard, you should wear earplugs or other hearing protection devices. [You only lose your hearing once.]

One more that is too often overlooked:

  • Be alert to emotional exhaustion or strain. When family members and neighbors are unavailable for emotional support, consult professionals at community health and mental health centers.

On that last point, this page on Recovering Emotionally after a Residential Fire might be helpful.

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