North Bay residents are urged to be cautious cleaning up ash from wildfires, Dr. Karen Smith, director and state health officer with the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
The advisory comes as many residents in and around Santa Rosa who lost homes in the wildfires were allowed to return to the areas Friday.
While ash from trees and other vegetation is relatively nontoxic and similar to ash found in a fireplace, ash from burned homes and otherproducts may contain chemicals, metals and even asbestos. That kind of ash may be toxic if it is inhaled or touched with wet skin, according to health officials.
Ash that is inhaled can irritate the nose, throat and lungs and exposure could trigger an asthma attack.
State health officials also urged residents to keep children from playing in ash and from areas where ash-covered materials are being disturbed. Residents should also wash ash off toys before children play with them and remove ash from pets.
When cleaning, residents should wear a tight-fitting N95 or P100 respirator mask, gloves, long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
They should also avoid getting ash on skin. Health officials said that if ash gets on the skin to wash it off immediately because some ash can cause chemical burns when it gets wet, state health officials said.
Ash should also be kept from getting into the air by not sweepin up ash or using a leaf blower. Instead, use water and wet cloths to clean items and surfaces.
Use a vacuum with high-efficiency particulate air filter rather than shop vacuum, which doesn't filter small particles.
Smith urges North Bay residents to go to a doctor or hospital if they experience any health issues such as chest pain, tightness in the chest or shortness of breath.
Smith said it's especially important to pay attention to the health of children and young adults who could be more susceptible to the health and emotional effects of the fires.
Health officials also urge residents to avoid breathing wildfire smoke.
Smoke can irritate eyes and the respiratory system and can cause more serious problems such as bronchitis and reduced lung function. Breathing the smoke can make asthma worse.
People should stay indoors or reduce activity outdoors in areas where wildfires are still burning. People with respiratory or lung or heart problems are urged to limit their time outdoors.
People with heart or lung problems should check with their doctor before wearing a respirator because respirators can make it harder to breathe.
For more information, residents can visit http://bit.ly/2xBs2qt.