Riverside County health officials Thursday advised residents to take precautions when clearing ash from the Holy Fire that has fallen onto cars, patios and other spaces because the spent embers can impact breathing and cause “toxic” eye and skin conditions.
“Just because it’s burned up doesn’t make it safe,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said. “Ash can be toxic, even in small quantities, depending on where it came from.”
Kaiser said residents should avoid attempting to clear away ash while it is still falling to minimize exposure.
According to the Department of Public Health, ash that has emanated from cabins or other structures that have burned in the Cleveland National Forest may contain chemicals, including asbestos, that can pose an inhalation risk.
“Larger ash particles can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat,” according to a health department statement. “Over time, ash particles break down into smaller, more harmful particles that can lodge deep into our lungs, causing serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, bronchitis and lung damage. The particles are also small enough to get into our bloodstream and have other toxic effects.”
If the potentially toxic ash comes into contact with wet skin, it might also result in chemical burns, officials said.
They recommended the following steps:
— anyone in compromised health, including lung or heart conditions, should avoid clearing away ash altogether;
— others should generally avoid activities that stir up ash;
— use tight-fitting respirator masks — such as an N95 or P100 — as well as gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants if cleaning up large quantities of ash becomes necessary;
— use wet cloths to mop up ash from surfaces;
— clear it away from objects before children handle them;
— clean it off of pets as soon as possible;
— lightly hose down areas where ash has built up, and when sweeping it, use gentle movements;
— bag and dump wet ash in trash receptacles if needed;
— avoid using leaf blowers to clear it away; and
— consider using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter to collect and dispose of the moistened ash.
Anyone who develops symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, headaches, heart palpitations, lightheadedness and unusual fatigue after exposure to ash, smoke or soot, should seek medical attention, officials said.