The wildfires ravaging parts of California have produced as much air pollution as the state’s cars do in one year, according to experts.
“These particles—their short name is PM 2.5—are highly elevated relative to what they would normally be,” said Suzanne Paulson, a professor with the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UCLA who also runs the Center for Clean Air.
Air quality analysts told USA Today that an estimated 10,000 tons of PM (particulate matter) 2.5, which is the main cause of haze in the U.S., has been produced by the fires.
That’s the same amount of particulate matter 2.5 that the 35 million vehicles on California’s roads produce in one year. PM 2.5 is an air pollutant that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. And people are feeling its effects.
“I started to feel short of breath,” said 29-year-old Bionca Drew. “And then I started to feel just a lot of pressure in my chest, and then I started to feel back pains, and I was like, ‘What is going on? I do not feel well.'”
Drew, who works in San Francisco, has chronic asthma and says she’s never experienced something like that before.
“Because of the air quality and my asthma, my job has allowed me to work from home,” Drew told Circa.
The National Weather Service put out an advisory deeming the air quality across the San Francisco Bay Area unhealthy for the next few days.
With more than 210,000 acres burned, 3,500 structures destroyed, and 31 people dead, more evacuations are being ordered. In the meantime, residents who are feeling the grip of PM 2.5 in the air can do something.
“The number one thing to do if you’re exposed to high levels or air pollution is reduce exposure,” said Suzanne Paulson. “One way to do that is to breathe less. You can avoid running around and avoid exerting yourself.”