As residents in select areas return home after being evacuated due to the Woolsey Fire, Los Angeles County public health officials are warning people to thoroughly clean their properties to protect against illness from ash and soot.
According to the county Department of Public Health, ash from wildfires is generally non-toxic, but it can cause irritation to the skin, nose and throat, and it could trigger attacks in people with asthma. Ash and dust from burned buildings may contain toxic chemicals such as asbestos, arsenic and lead, health officials said.
The department offered a series of tips for returning home for ash cleanup:
— Do not allow children to play in ash, especially in wet or damp ash.
— Wash toys before children play with them.
— Bathe pets to rid them of ash.
— During clean-up, wear gloves such as household dish washing gloves, long sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid skin contact, and wash away ash from skin as soon as possible.
— Wash fruit and vegetables from a garden or trees thoroughly before eating them.
— Avoid stirring ash into the air as much as possible by avoiding the use of leaf blowers or other equipment that can kick up dust. Instead, gently sweep indoor and outdoor surfaces and use a wet mop to clean away ash. A solution of bleach and water can also be used to disinfect an area.
— Shop vacuums and regular household vacuum cleaners are not recommended to clean up ash, because they do not filter out small particles but can actually blow particles into the air.
— Wear a disposable mask with a rating of N-95 or better during clean-up.
— Avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible.
— Walk carefully, wear boots with good soles and use as little water as possible when cleaning an area of ash.
— Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash, but it should be put in a plastic trash bag first to prevent it from blowing away when the trash is emptied.
Health officials also offered tips for food safety for evacuees returning home, nothing that power outages may have led to spoilage of food, and ash may be covering exposed food or food containers.
— Plastic bottles of liquid, such as water, that have been covered with ash should be discarded, since particles may contaminate caps even if they are rinsed.
— Food that is not stored in waterproof or airtight containers and has been covered with ash should be discarded.
— Food stored in sealed, previously unopened glass or metal cans or jars, such as baby food, should be safe for use, but should be cleaned before opening and placed in another container before eating.
— Food in the refrigerator should generally safe as long as power was not out for an extended period of time. Food can be held in the fridge for a few hours if, while the power is out, the doors to the fridge and freezer are kept closed to maintain coldest possible temperatures.
— If a power outage lasts several hours, it is best to throw away perishable food items such as meat, dairy products and eggs.
— Items that have thawed in the freezer should be thrown away, and not re-frozen.