Erase SoCal cycling from your calendar this weekend

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Nearly 2 dozen Southern California wildfires that have destroyed more than half a million acres of vegetation caused so much smoke that bicycling in the area this weekend definitely wouldn't be a healthy exercise.

Orange County-based Cycling Dude blogger Kiril Kundurazieff writes about the hazards and public health warnings that are being issued at “Where there's Smoke, There's Fire: Should You Ride?” He concludes he'll forego the bike and stick to mass transit.

The Orange County Wheelmen have postponed this weekend's popular Fall Metric Century to Nov. 3 due to the smoky conditions.

The smoke

Air quality was reported to be in the unhealthy to hazardous zone this week in San Diego. Earlier, strong winds blew a lot of that smoke offshore. Winds are said to be dying down, which means the smoke will build up over land.

According to the Mercury News, the hazards won't stop anytime soon:

“Health experts are cautioning that it could be weeks before air quality improves in Southern California. After the Cedar fire swept through that area four years ago, traces of the smoke lingered for weeks and winds kicked up ashes more than a month later. Even when the smoke is no longer visible, tiny particles often linger in the air until a good strong rain washes them away.”

The risks

Cycling Dude passes along some of the health warnings being issued by the health agencies of the various counties involved in the wildfires. The San Diego Air Pollution Control District, for instance, recommends limiting physical activity if you can smell smoke, and if possible stay indoors to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter.

The New York Times reports that hospitals throughout Southern California are seeing a rise in the number of people seeking treatment for respiratory problems, especially those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or emphysema.

“The primary danger, experts say, arises from particles from vegetation and other burned matter that can lodge deep in the lungs and, in some cases, lead to severe shortness of breath, asthma attacks, bronchitis and other pulmonary ailments.

“The most damaging particles are invisible to the eye and can evade the body's normal protective mechanisms, like tiny hairs in the nostrils and cells within the lungs designed to expel or destroy alien substances.”

When I researched this issue before when wildfires sent smoke over bicycle touring routes in Washington, Idaho, and Montana last summer, I learned that the American Lung Association considers typical dust masks as useless against this particulate matter.

The American Lung Association recommends staying indoors. More expensive dust masks with true HEPA filters will clean out the damaging fine particles, but they're difficult for people with lung disease to use. If outdoor trips are necessary, breathe through a damp cloth to help filter out particles in the air.

Also see: How to protect your lungs near wildfires. Those living in the California wildfire zones are probably wise to take precautions for two weeks, depending on how quickly the smoke dissipates.

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