Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Doctor: Smoke has turned our lungs black
We had serious wildfires in South Georgia earlier this year. For a few days, the air in Atlanta (hundreds of miles away from the fires) smelled ... bad.

While the smell was annoying, it really didn't bother me physically. I expected the same thing when we arrived in Southern California. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Almost immediately, my eyes grew watery and my throat filled with guck. I keep clearing my throat, but it doesn't seem to help. I've always consumed a lot of water, but these days, I am constantly craving it.

Today, CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and I met a researcher from the University of California San Diego. Dr. Kimberly Prather told us, "If you could see our lungs right now -- yours and mine -- they'd be black."

I can believe it. I am curious to know -- folks in Southern California -- have you had the same experience I've had?

-- By Jen Pifer, CNN Senior Medical Producer
Posted By CNN: 10:44 PM ET
  10 Comments
I just moved to DC from San Diego. I was there during the Cedar Fire in 2003. My roommate and I were held up in our apartment and barely ventured outside for four days. Still, our eyes were dry and it was hard keeping our contact lenses moist. Our throats were scratchy and filled with "guck". The week after the fire we were both sick. It appeared to be symptoms similar to the common cold but we knew it was from the smoke. For those days we had breathed smoke and ash that didn't only originate from nature, but anything that could burn- plastics, textiles, chemicals, etc. The scariest thing was washing the clothes that we had worn the week of the fire. They reeked of smoke- like we had stood next to a campfire all day even though we had been inside. That's when we realized how bad it had been.
Posted By Patricia : 11:19 PM ET
Jen,
This is the scary part, putting the fire down is only the begining of other disasters to come, and mainly the damages it will cause to the health of people.
Although I dont live in southern California, rather in central, but cousins of mine just came up here, since they have no more house down in SD, and first thing I did was to take them to my MD to check up, and already (even though they left on 2nd day of fire breakout) were black and full of CO2 and many other chemicals... it is so scary to even think about all those people who are still there and near the fire, especially the fire fighters...
What is even worse is the bacteria that might be growing within that smoke of fire... Please keep us updated. May God help them all in SD, but i have to say i never been so proud to be a Californian like NOW!!!
Posted By LulaK : 12:07 AM ET
Well, Jen, thanks for asking about those of us who are fortunate enough not to be in the path of the fires. I live about 20 miles from the nearest fire, yet my eyes have been burning off and on since Sunday and I have been coughing with a scratchy throat. The need to drink water that you are feeling, however, may be from the exceptionally low humidity. I was disheartened to learn from tonight's 360 that the shift in the direction of the winds is not going to clear the gunk from the air. There are more than 20 million people in greater L.A. and I'm wondering if we are all going to suffer any permanent damage from this.
Posted By Barbara in Culver City, CA : 12:11 AM ET
I'd like to add to my previous comment that I wish the news media would not keep recommending that people stay indoors and turn on the air conditioning because of the unhealthy air from the fires. Many people such as myself do not have air conditioning! Many parts of the area have a mild enough climate to make it unnecessary. Others cannot afford it. Furthermore, air conditioners use a lot of electricity and our power grid in Southern California is already strained, not to mention the negative impact on global warming all those air conditioners would have!
Posted By Barbara in Culver City, CA : 12:30 AM ET
This is a topic that has received less attention than I would have expected. Having experienced even greater effects from the Cedar Fire four years ago, I can tell you that the lack of humidity plus the smoke that is all-pervasive can affect you immediately and even without you realizing it. One becomes so used to the smell that you don't even recognize it anymore yet eyes and noses run, sinuses clog, voices become hoarse, throats dry out, and the effects last, compromising your ability to fight off subsequent exposures to virus. People need to pay attention and heed warnings not to exercise and limit outdoor exposure.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:30 AM ET
What I worried about is what the smoke becomes from the fire with the human life environment. Because it is different with the smoke of forest fire, and it maybe have bad smoke from the modern products. Can the relative industrity tell some information about what kind of electric products etc. which people put in the house of the neighberhood or the relative area?
Maybe some company can survery this fire damages for product safety standard etc. Or please tell those people who want to come back home just think about their health and safety. Because being health is always have another chance to build more wonderful life whit those people who you love.
I hope Anderson and other wokers, people can be fine after this.
Posted By HowMindLifeHouse : 2:56 AM ET
I actually used to be wildland firefighter myself last summer for the USFS. I worked for the Davis Fire Crew based out of Davis, Ca. The smoke and the ash and all this is a normal everyday occurrence for those on the line. It can be bad for people with asthma and breathing problems but the common firefighter already knows this and wouldn't take the job because of this. The bigger concern, especially in urban areas, is possible chemicals from trucks(especially UPS trucks since they aren't labeled) that are on fire as well as the hazard of drug labs that are on fire. The smoke from the forest burning is more like tobacco and the lungs of a healthy person can easily recover from this in a few weeks. Cigarette smokers do this for years allowing the ash to build up. It will make for some darker than normal colored kleenex's though. I know it did for me when i worked up at Tahoe and Mt. Shasta.
Posted By Nathaniel Jarrett : 9:15 AM ET
Dear Jen,

A kind good morning from the seaside of Canada. Jen, that is so terrible to hear about the affects of the smoke there. Really scary.

And last year the University of Alberta conducted research, published in the “Canadian Journal of Forest Research.” Entitled: “FOREST FIRES HUGE A HUGE COST TO HEALTH.” The study discussed the economic costs and impact regarding mortality risks, lost wages, sick days, and acute respiratory symptoms that people suffered because of the poor air quality after a forest fire.

But California is suffering more than a forest fire. It makes me worry and wonder what would or could the lasting affects be of such a terrible disaster with overwhelming smoke filled with toxic chemicals? Choking Haze. Do they have lists of various chemicals and how they affect people if they burn and become air borne? (the plastics burning and the building materials and fire retardants etc.)

We dearly hope and pray that there will be no lasting affects from all that smoke and what it contains. What about when people go back to their neighborhoods that have been devastated and are smoldering with that choking haze? I can’t help but think of the dear people that suffered after breathing in the toxic air after 9/11. What a great worry as sometimes things don’t show up until years later. Hopefully all will be okay.

Thank you kindly for the update Jen – we hope you will be feeling better soon. If your lungs are black Jen then we know those close to the line, the brave firefighters and your fellow journalists and teams must be suffering terribly too. Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone there. What a tragedy. Hang in there Jen and please take good care and stay safe.

In concern, Gina & family

P.S. About air conditioners, I think it has been suggested because the AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION suggests it. I am not sure what the suggestion is in California as it seems the power grid is so fragile. Our hearts go out the them.

AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION link:

http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=36064
Posted By Anonymous : 11:02 AM ET
My doctor's office waiting room was full yesterday when I went to get my asthma meds refilled and left with 4, count them, 4 additional scripts. Contacts will not stay put, and thank god I buy kleenix from Costco! A call to the vet meant a recommendation that the dogs stay inside as much as possible. And any trip outside leaves me miserable for hours. But Californians are hearty people even with all the botox and nips and tucks and such. Actually maybe its all the chemical alterations that keep us alive and kicking through it all. I'm not even going to think about complaining when all I've got to deal with is some meds and a lot of ashes to wash off my car when our neighbors have to deal with loosing their homes.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:34 PM ET
PLEASE tell the CNN correspondents to wear surgical masks to protect their lungs. We would still be able to hear them. Last evening Anderson Cooper mentioned having trouble talking due to all the smoke he had inhaled. Wearing masks would both protect them and set better examples for others. We should have learned this lesson from the aftermath of 9/11.
Posted By Janet Dickinson : 5:45 PM ET
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