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States are working to protect people from dangerous wildfire smoke — are 'clean air centers' the future?

Officials are still looking into all of these possibilities.

Calean air centers, States are working to protect people from dangerous wildfire smoke

Photo Credit: iStock

Hot, dry conditions across the continent have led to long, severe fire seasons in the U.S. for the past few years. Residents have been plagued by smoke from the fires, which can cause significant problems for respiratory and heart health

One possible solution explored in several states is opening "clean air centers," Axios reports.

What are clean air centers?

Clean air centers are usually small rooms with either heavy-duty filtration equipment installed in their HVAC systems or portable air cleaners inside the rooms themselves, Axios explains. These centers filter out the particulates of wildfire smoke so that the room's air is clean and safe to breathe.

They're mainly provided for low-income people whose homes don't have clean, cool air and for unhoused people. 

The use of clean air centers has been tried in California, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona, and some may soon be added in New York. Clean air centers are also sometimes combined with public cooling centers.

Why are clean air centers necessary?

Wildfires have been getting worse because of the planet's rising temperature. Not only is the weather getting hotter, but it's also getting less stable, sometimes leading to droughts that leave dry, flammable vegetation behind, causing more frequent and more severe fires.

There are steps that people can take to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke, such as wearing N95 masks and filtering the air in their homes. The internet has been overflowing with low-cost clean air hacks, too.

Wildfire smoke has a much larger impact on unhoused people, who may not have access to safe places to stay or can afford air filtration equipment. It's also difficult for low-income individuals living with low-quality HVAC to breathe clean air when their equipment lets smoke inside.

In July, public advocate Jumaane D. Williams released a report about New York City's response to recent severe smoke. "Those orange skies should be a red alert about our city's systems and readiness for future air quality emergencies," Williams said.

How are clean air centers working out?

There's some doubt about whether clean air centers are the best solution to the wildfire smoke problem. People would need to walk through the heavily polluted outdoor air to access these spaces. 

Masks and individual air filters may be better options for some people. Officials are still looking into all of these possibilities.

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