Wildfire Smoke / Air Quality
Weather and Air Quality Conditions on Campus:
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Smoke from wildfires in Northern California may contribute to poor air quality in the Bay Area during the wildfire season.
Regional wildfire smoke can affect local communities’ ambient air quality. Stanford University actively monitors the effects of wildfire smoke on the campus community.
Smoke can cause adverse health effects. For some people, conditions in the Bay Area become unpleasant rather than dangerous. However, people with heart or lung disease, individuals over the age of 65, pregnant women, children, and individuals with respiratory illnesses can be particularly sensitive to wildfire smoke and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure.
Employees with concerns about performing work due to the air quality should contact their supervisor. We encourage supervisors to consider the needs of employees and have discussions with employees about alternative work arrangements, if needed. Supervisors can contact Human Resources (HR) for guidance on accommodations and HR policies.
For questions related to wildfire smoke, contact Environmental Health & Safety at (650) 723-0448.
- Stay informed by signing up for alerts from AlertSU, CalFire, your county’s mass notification system, the local air quality district (e.g., BAAQMD), or the local public health department.
- Create a personal, family, or group emergency plan, gather emergency supplies, and be ready to evacuate if you are in a fire-prone area.
- Identify locations in your community that have filtered air spaces, such as: indoor shopping malls, local libraries, community centers, civic centers, and local government buildings.
Various government agencies monitor air quality throughout California and report the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for their region. While wildfire smoke can contain hazardous chemicals, the main exposure concern for people who are not close to the fire are the tiny particles (particulate matter or PM) suspended in the air. The smallest particles, called PM2.5 because they are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller, are considered most harmful because they can penetrate deep within the respiratory system.
Although AQIs exist for several pollutants, wildfire smoke health standards are specifically based on the AQI for PM2.5.
- To find the current and forecasted AQI for PM2.5, go to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website www.AirNow.gov and enter a work location zip code (94305 for Main Campus and Redwood City Campus).
- While Stanford will primarily be referencing the EPA’s AirNow data, additional real-time measurements and modeling may be used for decision-making.
AQI categories for PM2.5 equate to different levels of health concern. Individuals who are sensitive to PM might experience symptoms at AQI levels below 150.
Air Quality Index (AQI) Categories for PM2.5 Level of Health Concern 0-50 Good 51-100 Moderate 101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups 151-200 Unhealthy 201-300 Very Unhealthy 301-500 Hazardous
Elevated levels of particulate matter found in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs and cause persistent coughing, phlegm, wheezing, itchy eyes, sinus issues, difficulty breathing or chest tightness. Particulate matter can also cause more serious problems, such as: reduced lung function, bronchitis, worsening of asthma, and heart failure.
Sensitivity to PM varies by individual. Sensitive groups may include people with heart or lung disease (e.g., asthma, COPD), individuals over the age of 65, pregnant women, and children. Individuals who are sensitive to PM might experience symptoms at AQI levels below 150.
Anyone concerned about the health effects experienced during a wildfire smoke event should talk with their primary health care provider.
- Students who experience symptoms may seek medical attention at Vaden Health Center (Vaden hours of operation).
- Employees who experience symptoms from wildfire smoke while performing work duties may seek medical treatment, and employers may not punish affected employees for seeking such treatment. For emergency medical attention, go to Stanford University Medical Center Emergency Department or the nearest Emergency Room.
- For non-emergent concerns, consider speaking with your personal health care provider or the SU Occupational Health Center (SUOHC) (SUOHC hours of operation).
- Stay hydrated by drinking water during heavy smoke events.
- Stay inside with the doors and windows closed.
- Where possible, avoid strenuous outdoor activities (e.g., going for a run).
- Consider use of an N95 respirator mask.
Mechanically Ventilated Spaces
Community spaces with mechanically filtered air available to Stanford students, staff, and faculty include:
- Cecil H. Green Library
- Bowes Art & Architecture Library @ McMurtry Art & Art History Building
- Branner Earth Sciences Library & Map Collections – Mitchell Earth Science
- Music Library – Braun Music Center
- Cubberley Education Library – Education Building
- Lathrop Library – VPTL Tech Lounge and East Asia Library
- Robin Li & Melissa Ma Science Library – SAPP Center
- Terman Engineering Library – HEC Building
LBRE identified campus buildings greater than 10,000 square feet equipped with mechanically filtered air. Find the list here.
Respirators can be an effective way to reduce exposure to wildfire smoke when they are properly selected and worn. When the current AQI for PM2.5 is above 150, respirators will be provided for voluntary use to employees who are at risk of exposure for more than one hour per shift. If the current AQI is greater than 500, respirator use is required.
Protective measures are required to limit employee exposure when the regional Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 is above 150. Examples of protective methods include:
- Moving work inside buildings/vehicles where the air is filtered.
- Limiting outside work time or time indoors where air filtration is not provided.
- Increasing rest time and frequency during outdoor work, and providing a rest area with filtered air.
- Reducing the physical intensity of the work to help lower breathing and heart rates.
While the best advice continues to be to minimize outdoor activity and work intensity, voluntary N95 respirator masks will be available on campus for Stanford students, faculty, and staff when the AQI is above 150. To be effective, air filtering respirator masks need to be fitted properly with a tight seal. General guidance on N95 respirator mask use is available on our Protection From Wildfire Smoke webpage.
For employees assigned more than 1-hour of work outdoors (or indoors without air filtration) per work shift during a wildfire smoke event, the supervisor shall:
- Check the current AQI before and during the work day, AND
- If the current AQI is greater than 150:
- Provide wildfire smoke awareness training to affected employees.
- Alert employees the AQI has reached an unhealthy level and instruct them in specific protective measures they must take.
- Encourage employees, without fear of reprisal, to report back when the air quality is getting worse, or if they are suffering from any symptoms due to air quality.
- Offer voluntary N95 respirators and encourage their safe use.
Alert messages will be sent to the Stanford community via text message, email, and in extreme instances, the outdoor siren system and VoIP speaker phones.
For instructions on updating your information visit the AlertSU FAQ website.
- AQI Decision-making Matrix (Coming Soon)
- Stanford Wildfire Smoke Protection Awareness Training and N95 Respirator Use Guidance