Fire and Smoke
September 21, 2020
Paul Herscu ND, MPH
I have, over the past many decades, been incredibly impressed by the public health infrastructure and work accomplished in the USA and abroad. In general, developing processes that help the many, those with means and those without means equally. And in general, it is impressive to examine the ability for governments to intersect with NGOs and stakeholders in an ever-evolving partnership to offer health and safety quickly and efficiently.
That said there are at times gaps in this process. And often those gaps fall in what for lack of a better term I might fit within the ‘here is a quick and easy and inexpensive do-it-yourself solution’ for whatever the issue at hand might be.
I bring this up as I received an email from a patient in California describing how bad the smoke is from the fires burning all around her city. And even though she does not go outside, it is in the apartment, and is irritating her eyes, nose and throat. She has tried several solutions in her space but the problem persists. And also, since she lives in a garden apartment, it costs too much to develop a central air solution for the owner, and even if he would want to, everyone who can do that work is already too busy and would be placed on a waiting list. But the problem exists right now. What to do?
I would like to describe a very simple solution that almost everyone could do and afford. I think there may be a few public health authorities that might mention this but in fact this has not been generalized and most people do not know this. So, if you do know someone in that area pass this along.
The most important aspect of the solution is that you want to remove particulate matter from the air inside the house. Good quality air filter machines will do this but cost $500-$2,000, and you might have to do this per room. Too costly, and often the machines are sold out anyway.
Let me describe a quick solution that works really well. Buy a box fan. Yes, those cheap old fashioned fans that you might even one lying about the basement. These can be bought for $10-$40. Then go to any of the larger hardware stores and buy a 20 inch by 20 inch furnace filter. Basically, you want the filter to fill up the overall surface of one side of the fan.
The filters come in different ‘strengths’ if you will. The tighter the mesh the smaller the particles that get removed are. It will say this on the filter package. Personally, I would get the one that towards the smallest mesh since those remove bacteria, mold and viruses (which is a topic for another day). Here you want to remove particulate matter. Your choice on which one to get, but try to go for the filter that removes at least the smoke particles. The best would be at least FPR 10 or MERV 13. This may be hard to find just now, at so you might have to use a FPR 9, but aim for the MERV13 or FPR 10.
When you get home, unpack the filter, place it AT THE BACK OF THE FAN, not in the front of the fan. This way the unfiltered air has to go through the filter to get to the fan to be blown out all filtered.
Note that the filter is made to have air flow in one direction. Look at the filter itself, and there will be an arrow that shows the direction that they want the air to flow. Point the arrow towards the fan when you put it in the back of the fan. Then tape the filter to the fan with tape to get rid of the space between the two parts, since the filter will fit pretty well, but not be a perfect fit. Don’t worry if it is not perfect, it will still work.
This will work REALLY WELL for any one room. Don’t leave this on when you are not in the house. Fans are electric motors and should only be used when you are present. But basically, for the price of $30-$50, per average sized room, you can get rid of the smoke in your house.
This is extremely effective, cheap, and very easy to implement by most people. It will stop or greatly diminish the misery that people are going through regarding the smoke, let alone mold and germs in the room. For that small effort and small cost, give it a try. If you go online, you will find various versions of this being demonstrated in video form.
I hope that public health authorities, aside from looking for expensive, delayed programs that may work perfectly in the ideal world don’t keep on forgetting about the common person who has needs now, who has limited means now, and needs a solution at the moment. We have seen this play out in the discussion around COVID-19 with solutions that may help people not be allowed to be generalized, but here this is a very simple solution. Public health authorities should consider sharing such solutions.
Paul Herscu, ND, MPH