Jesusita Fire: Health Officials Offer Ash Advice

Jesusita Fire: Health Officials Offer Ash Advice

11 May 2009

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In the Jesusita Fire’s aftermath, many Santa Barbara, Montecito and Goleta schools have a covering of ash on their playgrounds, lawns and all outside equipment.

Thestate Department of Public Health on Sunday released advice for the safety of students and adults, who will likely return to their campuses for the first time Monday.

While the ash from such fires is relatively nontoxic, it may be irritating to the skin, especially to those with sensitivities.

If the ash is breathed into the lungs, it can be irritating to the nose and throat, and may cause coughing. Exposure to ash in air might trigger asthmatic attacks in residents. Therefore, the following steps are recommended in order to reduce risks:

» Do not allow children to play in the ash.

» Wash off children’s toys before they play with them.

» Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers.

» Well-fitting dust masks, if worn properly, may provide some protection during cleanup. A mask rated N-95 or P-100 that forms a close seal on your face will be more effective in blocking particles than simple surgical or dust masks. Look for masks with two straps, and position one at the back of the neck and the other at the crown of the head. If you cannot get a close face seal, try a different model or size.

» Gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping is the best procedure in most cases. A damp cloth or wet mop may be all that is needed on lightly dusted areas.

» Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash. Ash may be stored in plastic bags or other containers that will prevent it from being disturbed.

» Minimize ash contact with bare skin by wearing long-sleeved clothing and pants.

» Rinse fruits and vegetables from home gardens before eating them.

The agency also urges that children remain off playgrounds or grass areas until they are cleaned or watered, and that students with asthma or other respiratory conditions remain indoors for a few days.

Furthermore, school staff members who sweep hard surfaces are urged to wear N-95 masks, and to sprinkle grass areas until mildly wet but avoid causing run-off; 15 to 30 minutes of watering is best.

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