Publication Date August 11, 2016

Smoke from Soberanes fire blamed for illnesses

United States
The Soberanes Fire is filling Monterey County with smoke, alarming some and making others sick. Photo: KSBW

The air data changes from location to location, and the smoke comes and goes with the wind. While the most current updates can be found at Monterey Bay Air Resources District website, doctors are telling people to trust their noses.

"If you can smell it, that's the first sign. Particle stuff is getting into your lungs," said Dr. John Koostra with Cardio Pulmonary Associates.

Koostra is a lung specialist, and he said his patients have been very affected by the smoke, coming in to see him and needing more medication.

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula is reporting a 20-percent increase in respiratory-related illnesses to its emergency department since the fire started.

Hospital officials said most cases are people who have underlying respiratory illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.

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"There's carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide. There are toxins that are small that we don't even see that affect our breathing," he said.

Monterey Bay Air Resources District has upped its monitoring stations to 16 around the county, nearly double the normal number to monitor the particles in the smoke.

"Our monitors measure the smallest particles that are called PM 2.5, and those are the ones we are most concerned about for health impacts," said Amy Clymo, a compliance and engineering manager with MBARD.

According to research from the University of California-Berkeley, the most harmful pollution is the small particulate matter 2.5 microns in size or smaller. The particles are small enough to get into the lungs and the bloodstream, where they can trigger heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and asthma in some cases.

Clymo said Monterey County usually boasts some of the cleanest air in the nation, but recently the particulate matter has been off the charts. She said the Big Sur-area air monitor has registered PM 2.5s in the 500 range since the fire started, even though the air-quality index is based on a 0 to 200 scale, with anything over 150 in the unhealthy range