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L.A. Could Use Breath of Fresh Air

October 01, 2005|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

Wildfires spewed smoke across much of the Los Angeles Basin on Friday, and air experts warned residents to limit activities, stay indoors and keep the air conditioning running.

People with health problems such as heart and lung disease were most at risk, but officials cautioned that no one in smoky areas should exercise vigorously outdoors.

"You don't want to be running a track meet," said air pollution expert Ed Avol, professor of preventive medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Schools in the San Fernando Valley suspended outdoor athletic activities through Monday, and the Los Angeles Unified School District advised all schools in areas affected by smoke to restrict student outdoor activity.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 02, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Air quality -- An article in Saturday's Section A about smoke from wildfires said that air samples collected Thursday near the Rocketdyne facility west of Chatsworth showed unusually high levels of contaminants. In fact, the samples did not show unusually high levels of contaminants. In addition, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the Los Angeles County health officer and director of public health, was misidentified as the county health director.

"Kids' lungs are still growing," said county health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding, "and you don't want them breathing anything more than they already are -- which is Los Angeles air."

Health officials urged adults and children with asthma to keep their inhalers and medication with them, because smoke can trigger an asthma attack. The elderly also were advised to take precautions.

Propelled by ocean winds, the smoky air should start moving east and dissipate over the weekend, a National Weather Service spokesman said.

Wildfires produce smoke thick with tiny particles and potentially toxic gases that can aggravate breathing problems, Avol said. The fire itself produces particles much like the particulate matter emitted by car engines, Avol said. The particles irritate the throat and lungs and cause other problems.

Larger pieces of soot and ash can also be an irritant: "They don't get very far into your airways, but they can get into your nose and eyes and clog up things. They're a nuisance," Avol said.

In general, residents in smoky areas should stay indoors, keep windows and doors closed, use air conditioning and place the system on "recirculation mode" to avoid sucking smoke into homes, officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District said.

Those at greatest risk include people with heart or lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic lung problems, cautioned officials at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The elderly are also sensitive to smoke, so relatives and friends should check with them to ensure they are not having problems.

Smog officials issued an advisory Friday morning, warning that smoke from the wildfires was harming air quality in a wide swath across the Los Angeles Basin, from the San Fernando Valley east to the western San Bernardino Valley.

Smoky conditions could last for days, and weather conditions will dictate how swiftly the smoke dissipates, said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.

The AQMD reported Friday afternoon that air in the San Fernando Valley is expected to remain unhealthful today.

In other areas, sensitive people should avoid extensive activity outdoors today, AQMD officials said. Those areas include downtown and central Los Angeles; the Westside, Malibu and Topanga areas; the west San Gabriel Valley; and the Santa Clarita Valley.

Air samples collected Thursday near the Rocketdyne facility west of Chatsworth did show unusually high levels of contaminants, but air officials said Friday that they will continue tests to ensure that hazardous materials weren't released when flames reached the facility.

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