Mitigate pollution in your car when air quality is compromised by wildfire smoke

A continued air quality alert remains in effect for Maryland on Thursday as smoke from wildfires in Canada inundates the region, filling the skies and posing health hazards to millions in the Northeast.

Residents are strongly advised to stay indoors and limit their time outside. However, many individuals still need to commute to work or carry out essential tasks. So, how can you minimize the health impacts while traveling?

When indoors, it is crucial to keep all windows and doors closed, as recommended by AirNow, a government-run website providing air quality data. However, if you must venture outside, there are measures you can take to protect your well-being.

If you need to drive, you can improve the air quality inside your vehicle by closing the windows and vents and activating the re-circulation mode on your air conditioner. The often-overlooked re-circulation button, typically represented by a car icon with a U-shaped arrow inside, is particularly useful. According to AirNow’s guidance, this setting effectively cuts off outside air, allowing your car to circulate the air already present inside.

air recirculation button

In a blog post by car maintenance company Eden Tyers & Servicing, it is explained that the air re-circulation button is not only beneficial for reducing smoke and exhaust fumes but also for minimizing pollen infiltration, which can be beneficial for individuals with hay fever, and preventing strong outdoor odors from entering your vehicle.

If you find yourself needing to walk outside, even for a short duration, it is strongly recommended to wear a mask. Opt for a KN95 mask for enhanced protection.

The Maryland Department of Health advises Marylanders to follow the Air Quality Action Guide, which provides information on preventing the adverse effects of polluted air. Governor Wes Moore’s office offers the following recommendations:

  • If you have lung or heart disease, remain indoors.
  • Air conditioning can help improve indoor air quality.
  • Wearing masks such as N95s or KN95s can reduce the inhalation of particles.
  • Be vigilant for breathing difficulties in children, especially those with lung conditions like asthma.
  • Regularly check on neighbors and relatives with chronic health issues.
  • Young children, older adults, and individuals sensitive to air pollution, as well as those with respiratory problems like asthma, should avoid being outdoors.

Experts emphasize the importance of monitoring air quality data specific to your area to avoid venturing outside during particularly polluted periods.