UAA’s tips to breathing easy

The University of Alaska Anchorage campus is a smoke-free campus, but what can be done about wildfire smoke?

According to Betty Bang, advanced practice registered nurse and family health practitioner with the Student Health and Counseling Center at UAA, there are several resources that students, staff and faculty can use to assess smoke levels.

Smoke rises from a July 2 wildfire in East Anchorage. Photo by Jason Herr.

One resource is the UAF Smoke website, maintained through the Geophysical Institute located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The site provides animated images of black carbon and particulate patterns that the viewer can interact with to gauge particulate levels throughout the state, as well as view future forecasts of the patterns.

“Black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant with a lifetime of only days to weeks after release in the atmosphere,” according to the Climate & Clean Air Coalition website. “During this short period of time, black carbon can have significant direct and indirect impacts on the climate, glacial regions, agriculture and human health.”

Black carbon, often called soot, is formed when fossil fuels, wood and other fuels do not fully combust. One contributor to black carbon in the air is forest fires.

Another source of information on smoke safety is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. The CDC offers several tips and precautions to take during times of heavy wildfire smoke:

  • Keep smoke outside and do this by setting up a “clean room” closed off from the outside air. Any windows need to be closed, and ventilation systems need to be turned off. An air filter can help with keeping the air in the room clean.
  • Avoid activities that create smoke or other particles indoors. These activities include: smoking, burning incense or candles, frying or broiling food and vacuuming, unless your vacuum has a High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filter.
  • Reduce your smoke exposure by wearing a respirator.
  • Pets and other animals can be affected by wildfire smoke too. Keep pets indoors as much as possible and limit their outdoor activities.
  • Keep track of fires through local news media sources or organizations like
  • Stay cool. Use indoor fans to circulate air within the room or dwelling, as open windows and some ventilation systems will allow more smoke to enter your space.

Maintaining a “clean room” can be difficult to achieve because during the hot weather conditions that Anchorage has experienced in recent weeks, people tend to open windows, letting the smoke in. However, the solution to cooler temperatures inside is an easy fix, Bang says.

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“Close the curtains,” she said.

An open window may seem to be the quickest way to a cooler room, but closing curtains can prevent the sun from heating a space like a greenhouse. Bang also suggests using inside fans to help with countering the heat.

Smoke is an irritant to most, but can also be dangerous to younger individuals and the elderly, as well as individuals with respiratory constraints.

Another consideration is to limit physical activities, such as jogging or biking, during smoky conditions. These activities exert the respiratory system, in addition to the introduction of smoke and air particulates while participating in the activity. Exercise is better completed indoors.

This also stands for people who walk or bike to school, as their time outside might need to be limited based on air quality, according to Bang.

Moving around UAA is made easier for students to remain indoors as they work their way from one end of campus to another, as most buildings are connected by skybridges.

Students who are unsure of their respiratory health can go to the Student Health and Counseling Center in rooms 116/120 of Rasmuson Hall, where health professionals can help to explore needs and concerns for combatting the smoke.

More localized information can be found on the Municipality of Anchorage’s Air Quality Index website, as well as the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Air Quality website.