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John Wheeler: Smoke from distant fires is not particularly healthy

For most of us, it is not of sufficient concentration to cause more than minor irritations of our eyes, throat and lungs.

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FARGO โ€” Smoke from distant forest fires, such as what our region has been experiencing this past week, is not particularly healthy, but for most of us, it is not of sufficient concentration to cause more than minor irritations of our eyes, throat and lungs. The air downwind from a major fire can contain higher than usual concentrations of carbon monoxide as well as small amounts of formaldehyde, benzene and other toxic chemicals.

Another concern is very tiny pieces of ash. Fine particulate matter โ€” smaller than 2.5 microns โ€” gets past the nose freely and tends to become embedded in the lungs where it can cause serious health problems if there is enough accumulation. People with preexisting breathing or cardiovascular issues are at a much greater risk. Generally speaking, smoke from distant fires should not make most of us change our normal behavior beyond some common sense practices such as giving yourself a break from the smoke if it becomes irritating.

John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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