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October 25, 2007

Where there's Smoke, there's Fire: Should You Ride?


This is not a simple question to answer, health risks or not.

All hell has broken loose in SoCal, including here in Orange County, south of Santiago College in the Northern reaches of Irvine, all the way south to Foothill Ranch, and Cook's Corner.

I hadn't rode my bike for a couple of weeks until Monday when I rode 4 miles for the sake of a new odometer, 17 miles on Tuesday to test the odometer and get pictures for a fire related story and 5 miles yesterday on my way to work.

Did I have to do any of that riding? No.

When you live in SoCal and have no car bicycling is one of your options for getting around, and like most folks the health risks never crossed my mind.

2 e-mails have served to focus me on the risks, however, and remind me that I should forget the bike for the duration and rely strictly on mass transit.

Fritz, of Cyclicious, left a comment the other day:

I stupidly decided to ride my bike in the midst of wildfire smoke about three or four years ago. It's a bad idea -- don't do it if you can avoid it.

I replied in an e-mail:

It is kind of hard to avoid the smoke completely in these
conditions, but I am definitely not getting any closer, than I did
yesterday, to the fires themselves. ;-D

His reply, yesterday afternoon:

I understand, but take transit or something. I completely ruined my
lungs when I continued to bike in spite of smoke; the damage is permanent.

THAT caught my attention.

Link Lindquist, of the OC Wheelmen, sent a message to members yesterday:

Greetings everyone,

As someone who has been involved with health and fitness for over 50 years I really want to encourage you to stay off the bike this weekend, unless you can ride it inside or at the gym.

The longtime damage that you will do to yourself by riding outdoors this weekend will far out way the benefits. The medical authorities suggest you do not do outside physical activity for two weeks after the smoke clears. We cannot see the tiny particles being embedded in our lungs.  Smoke effects include eye and respiratory tract irritation, reduced lung function, asthma, coughing and excess mucus.

I urge you as a friend and as an avid cyclist that you do not ride your bike outside this weekend.  The OC Wheelmen have postponed the fall metric because  of the smoke. Cheers to that decision. 

It’s hard for me to believe that there are any scheduled rides for this weekend by anyone.

Again, I plead with you to take care of yourself by just relaxing and enjoying your life.

Stay healthy,          Link and Kathy

PS : Share this with anyone you care about.

I'm convinced and have always used Mass Transit to help me get around, but it's not that simple for other people.

In SoCal there are many people whose only source of transportation, for getting to and from work, or just going anywhere, any time, is by bicycle.

I'm not just talking about illegal Hispanics and Hispanic citizens of low income, either, though they no doubt constitute many such people.

You will see them during the day, some congregating on street corners and at work centers, riding for miles day and night to get to where they need to go.

Many people who ride their bikes may not be able to afford a bus pass and even if they could maybe the bus doesn't go to, or near, where they need to go, much less at the times they need the ride.

Many people don't have time to read the paper, or watch TV and may not own a computer, so will not learn that they maybe should not be riding their bike anywhere.

Many may not even read, or speak English.

When you need to pay the bills and feed the family you get things done using the transportation options available to you, risks be damned.

Recognizing this there is only so much that officials and concerned citizens can do to educate the public:

With the following I hope to reach a few folks:

There is a continuing Health Alert In LA County, Orange County, San Bernardino County (and for child safety, here.), and San Diego County.

As the San Diego Air Pollution Control District says:

Due to the numerous wild fires burning throughout San Diego County, localized areas of smoke and ash have occurred in many areas.  As a result elevated particulate matter concentrations, including fine particulates, or PM2.5 concentrations, may reach unhealthful levels in some smoke impacted areas.

In areas of heavy smoke, assume that air quality levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for all individuals.  In areas with minor smoke impacts, assume that air quality levels range from moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups.

In areas where you smell smoke it is advised that you limit physical activity.  If possible, stay indoors to limit your exposure to fine particulate matter.

The above could just as easlily apply to the rest of SoCal:

The SDAPCD site has a  very important page that discusses the issue of Smoke by answering 8 questions:

1. What's in smoke from a wildfire?

2. Is smoke bad for me?

3. How does smoke harm my health?

4. How do I know if I'm being affected?

5. What can I do to protect myself from wildfire smoke?

6. Do air filters help?

7. Do dust masks help?

8. Are the effects of smoke permanent?

Please read the whole page and if you live in affected areas do what you can to spread this info around to those you know and care about.

The Centers for Disease Control has many useful links:

Health Threat From Wildfire Smoke: A fact Page.

Websites for Currently Affected Areas in California.

The American Lung Association: Forest Fires and Respiratory Health Fact Sheet.

A special Tip of the Hat to Gene Bisbee, of Biking Bis, who inspired me with his post from August when wildfires hit  Montana, Idaho and Washington.

October 25, 2007 in Life, The Bike Trail, and Everything | Permalink


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