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EHS contact for wildfire smoke: Rob Connelly
Know Your Air Quality
Wildfires are becoming more prevalent in the surrounding Bay Area Counties and the overall State of California. Wildfires release airborne particulate matter and gases that can have health impacts on more susceptible populations. The US EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) is the method used by the EPA to report air quality on a real-time basis. The EPA’s AQI is also referred to as the “NowCast” and represents data collected overtime periods of varying length in order to reflect present conditions as accurately as possible. The EPA has assigned a specific color to each AQI category to enable a quick assessment of air quality in the community.
Stay informed by signing up for alerts from LabAlert, and tune in to local media for changes in smoke or weather conditions. Bay Area and LBNL campus information can be found at the following websites:
- Purple Air (this link points to LBNL’s specific site location )
- Bay Area Air Quality Management District
- EPA Air Now
On days with elevated smoke levels, LBNL uses Cal/OSHA established levels as the basis for making decisions on whether and how outdoor LBNL personnel can safely perform work. LBNL also uses recommendations from the LBNL Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Working Group to determine when actions are needed for the comfort of indoor workers to limit the amount of outdoor smoke infiltration into LBNL buildings. The LBNL IAQ Working Group’s position paper on indoor air quality and wildfire smoke can be found here. The full Action Level table, containing information from both US EPA and the IAQ Working Group, can be found below.
LBNL utilizes its own PurpleAir data (using the US EPA conversion) in concert with other monitoring information to guide institutional actions, including those triggered by Action Levels. LBNL EHS has deployed numerous Purple Air airborne particle detection devices throughout the Lab campus (visible on the Purple Air site) to monitor airborne particle levels related to wildfire smoke at both indoor and outdoor locations. The information provided by the Purple Air units is comparable to regulatory-based air quality index numbers and can be used as a tool to assist Lab personnel in making decisions about smoke mitigation or added safety measures at the Lab.
LBNL smoke-related Action Levels use the Purple Air US EPA-converted AQI. The US EPA conversion setting must be selected manually when opening the Purple Air application.
Reducing exposure for outdoor workers
- Following US EPA’s AQI as well as Cal/OSHA’s regulation on wildfire smoke, when LBNL Facilities employees are exposed outdoors to an AQI equal to or greater than 151, but not exceeding 400 (US EPA conversion), for a total of one hour or more, respirators will be provided for employees to use voluntarily.
- When employees are exposed outdoors to an AQI of 400 or greater (US EPA conversion), a respirator will be provided, and respirator use is required.
- Cal/OSHA wildfire smoke regulations do not apply to workspaces or operations in enclosed buildings or structures in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system.
- Information/training on wildfire smoke for LBNL outdoor workers can be found here.
Engineering controls for improving indoor air quality during smoke events
During smoke events, LBNL Action Levels may trigger LBNL Facilities’ protocol to reduce infiltration of smoke into buildings by adjusting building HVAC systems. When outdoor PurpleAir AQI levels begin to approach an upward trend toward 100, the LBNL Security Operations Center (SOC) will alert the EHS Division, who will then verify levels using a combination of the AirNow and PurpleAir website data and make the final determination whether to initiate response actions by the Facilities Division. This specifically consists of shutting down economizers and reducing the outdoor air damper to its minimum position. (Such protocols will not compromise ventilation-related COVID-19 controls.)
Another key engineering control to improve indoor air quality during smoke events consists of air filtration through the HVAC system for both outside and recirculated air. Most LBNL buildings contain air filter media ranging from Minimum Efficiency Rating Value of 8-13 (MERV8-13). MERV8 filters are typically installed on smaller, single filter units, and MERV13 (or better) filters are typically found on multiple filter units. The long term goal is to upgrade all systems to MERV13 minimum.
Other ways to potentially reduce indoor particulate levels and improve indoor air quality while working at the LBNL campus or at an LBNL offsite building include the use of a portable air purifier in your office to maintain comfort (EHS recommends these models). Prior to using the air purifier, please contact an EHS representative for proper placement due to COVID protocols/concerns.
Administrative controls for improving/reducing exposure to poor indoor air quality.
The IAQ Working Group’s position paper also provides a framework for administrative controls to either improve or reduce exposure to poor indoor air quality. These actions can be taken by building occupants, Building Managers (BMs), Building Emergency Teams (BETs), Facility Area Managers (FAMs), and supervisors. Another useful source of information on indoor air quality and wildfire smoke is the ETA Area Air Quality Tips and Resources website. Ultimately, each employee must develop and discuss with their supervisor (if necessary) a personal action plan for how to deal with poor indoor air quality. This plan may include discussions with a health care provider and the use of medications or devices needed in the event of poor indoor air quality.
For Indoor Building Occupants
- Avoid or limit going outside and heavy exertion.
- Avoid or limit outdoor exercise.
- Ensure your and colleagues’ windows/exterior doors are closed
- Eliminate indoor use of aerosol sprays, other personal or commercial products that generate aerosols or fragrances
- Avoid cooking or preparing food with strong odors.
- If you need to drive government vehicles, keep windows closed and use the recirculated air feature (if applicable)
- If you must come to work, consider using a portable air cleaner.
- Avoid prolonged propping open doors for moves, etc.
- Notify your BM or FAM if you notice sources of outside air infiltration
- If possible, work in an onsite building with a lower current AQI for PM2.5.
For BMs, BETs, and FAMs
- If you are among those authorized and expected to work onsite, consider initiating daily walkthroughs of buildings to ensure all exterior windows and doors are closed. If you are not onsite, consider sending reminders to occupants of sufficient frequency or delegate to a colleague.
- Initiate any unique, building-specific controls that you may be aware of
- Consider modifying, canceling, or rescheduling work orders that generate aerosolized particles or odors (e.g., wall sanding, painting, etc.)
- Become familiar with passive vents or other leak points that may allow more significant smoke infiltration and take action to address or submit work orders for repairs, especially in older buildings
- If you are onsite, consider performing daily walkthroughs of worker locations to ensure all exterior windows and doors are closed. If you are not onsite, consider sending reminders of sufficient frequency to staff who are onsite.
- Encourage staff to implement administrative controls listed under “indoor building occupants.”
- Discuss alternative work schedules, work locations, and length of time onsite with staff
- Paid Administrative Leave will only apply should the Lab decide to curtail operations and will apply only for employees who are prevented from working on-site and who are unable to telework.
- The Lab will distribute guidance should this occur and if approved by the Deputy Lab Director for Operations. Instructions for requesting and approving paid Administrative Leave will be included in the communication, along with details on LETS recording.
- All employees should be encouraged to find appropriate methods of performing their duties. This includes the option for the employee to telework if possible and feasible. If, even after appropriate safety controls are put in place, an employee feels they need to be absent from work due to the conditions, they may opt to request use of their accrued leave (sick or vacation as applicable). Employees may also contact Health Services if they have questions about health symptoms caused by environmental smoke conditions if they are experiencing health symptoms, or for discussions related to concerns about personal, increased risk factors.
- Consider making all these suggestions “talking points” during your Plan Of the Day (POD) safety discussions.
LBNL Wildfire Smoke Action Levels (Derived from US EPA and LBNL’s IAQ Working Group)
|Air Quality Index (based on US EPA conversion)||Who is Affected?||Instructions/Alternative Work Conditions|
|Moderate (51-100)||Everyone, especially Unusually Sensitive Individuals (USIs) affected by pollution||USIs: Reduce prolonged outdoor activities. Strictly follow health care provider guidance to address symptoms, and contact personal health care provider if experiencing symptoms.
All: Be aware of increasing AQI levels and be prepared to implement administrative controls.
Facilities: An AQI approaching 100 will trigger protocol direction from EHS to reduce infiltration of smoke into buildings by adjusting building HVAC systems.
|Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101-150)||Everyone, especially sensitive groups (heart/lung conditions, older workers)||Sensitive Workers: Reduce prolonged outdoor activities. Be mindful of symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. Strictly follow personal health care provider guidance to address symptoms, and contact the provider if experiencing symptoms.
All: Consider telecommute option with the supervisor’s approval. Initiate administrative controls.
Facilities: Engineering controls already activated prior to reaching an AQI of 100
|Unhealthy (151-200)||All staff||Sensitive Workers: Reduce all outdoor activities to a minimum. Consult with a personal physician, as needed, to identify additional protective measures and related work restrictions.
All: Reduce prolonged outdoor activities involving heavy exertion. Consider telecommuting option with supervisor’s approval. Continue implementation of administrative controls. Facilities: Continue implementation of engineering controls.
When LBNL Facilities employees who work outdoors are exposed to an AQI equal to or greater than 151, but not exceeding 400 (US EPA conversion), for a total of one hour or more, respirators will be provided for Facilities employees to use voluntarily.
|Very Unhealthy (201-300)||All Staff||Sensitive Workers: Avoid all outdoor activities.
All: Telecommute option with appropriate authorization. Reduce physical outdoor activity to a minimum. Continue implementation of administrative controls.
Facilities: Continue implementation of engineering controls.
|Hazardous (301-500)||All staff||All: Specific direction from Laboratory senior leadership will be provided. Avoid outdoor activities. Continue implementation of administrative controls.
When LBNL employees are exposed outdoors to an AQI of 400 or greater (US EPA conversion), respirator use is required.
Facilities: Continue implementation of engineering controls.
Links to other useful information
CDC, Wildfire Smoke, and COVID-19:
Household based steps to reduce smoke exposure:
Air quality forecast