Not just any mask will protect from NC wildfires’ smoke

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) – Smoke pouring from the mountain wildfires in the North Carolina mountains is affecting the air quality across the state, according to the EPA.

Click for more maps and photos from the wildfires

Forecasts show a large swath of Western North Carolina’s air is deemed “unhealthy” while other parts are  considered “unsafe for sensitive groups.”

An “unhealthy” forecast means everyone could begin to feel the effects of the air quality.

As smoke drifts towards highly populated areas like Charlotte, many may turn to masks to protect themselves from the poor air quality.

In Macon County, North Carolina, special health masks were being made available to help with the smoke during the fires.

Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said they’re distributing N95-rated masks as regular surgical masks don’t provide adequate protection from smoke particles.

Smoke particles are smaller than what a normal surgical mask will keep out.

(Source: EPA)

Certain N95-rated masks can keep out not only smoke particles but also 95 percent of infectious particles, the CDC said.

To keep smoke out, an N95-rated mask must keep out particles that are 2.5 microns in diameter. The mask’s label will indicate how effective it is against certain-sized particles.

Smoke, combustible materials and metals are 2.5 microns in diameter. The average human hair is 30 times that size in diameter, according to the EPA.

N99-rated masks are available that protect against object 0.3 microns in diameter.

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