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Further information from Public Health England (PHE)

Further information from Public Health England (PHE)

General Advice

What is the public health advice to residents?

Smoke consists of a mixture of gases, liquid droplets and solid particles; some of the substances present in smoke can irritate the lining of the air passages (nose, throat and lungs), the skin and the eyes. Symptoms may include coughing and wheezing, sore throat, feeling short of breath, runny nose or eyes or chest pain. In general, exposure to smoke is more likely to affect people who have existing breathing problems, lung or heart conditions (e.g. asthma, bronchitis, chronic pulmonary disease or heart disease). The very young and very old, smokers and people with flu or flu-like illnesses may also be at greater risk after exposure to smoke from fires. People who are generally fit and well are unlikely to experience long-term health problems from temporary exposure to smoke from a fire. To minimise your exposure, shelter as much as possible by limiting the amount of time you spend outside in the smoke. People with asthma who may be in the vicinity of the fire should carry their inhaler.

If symptoms persist seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

 

How will I know what is happening and what I should do?

The fire and rescue service, police and relevant agencies are constantly monitoring the situation. Updates will be provided by local news media and social media from the relevant agency. If you are concerned about your health, call NHS 111, contact your General Practitioner (GP) or in the case of an emergency, call 999.

 

Sheltering and Evacuation

I have been advised to shelter what does this mean?

If you are asked to shelter it is advised that you:

  • Go indoors

  • Close all windows and doors

  • Turn off any mechanical ventilation including any air conditioning.

  • Tune your radio in to a local radio station and listen for updates

  • If you have health concerns seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

Important: being advised to shelter does not mean that you should remain in your property until the incident is over. This advice is provided to reduce your exposure as much as possible; therefore you can still leave your house for essential reasons, such as to travel to work or to collect school children.

 

When should I start sheltering?

Sheltering is most effective if you start to shelter before you can see the smoke at your property. Follow the instructions of emergency responders and move indoors as soon as possible.

 

How will I know when it’s safe to go outside again?

If you can no longer smell or see any smoke you should open windows and doors to ventilate your house; if you see or smell the smoke return remember to go inside and close all windows and doors. Updated advice will be provided by the emergency services as often as possible; if you have access to a radio, tune into your local radio station, where updates may also be broadcast.

 

I can see smoke out of my window. Should I attempt to get away from it?

No. The safest place to be is indoors where you will be protected from the worst of the smoke if you keep the doors and windows closed.

 

Is it safe for me to go to the site or drive past it?

It would be advisable to avoid unnecessary travel, particularly near the area of the fire, both to reduce exposure to smoke and to allow the emergency services and other incident responders to have free access to the site.

 

What should I do when driving through the smoke?

You should avoid driving into smoke if you can and always follow instructions given by the emergency services. If you cannot avoid driving through smoke - slow down, drive with care, turn off the air conditioning, close windows and air vents and if necessary use your headlights.

 

I have existing health conditions, won’t my health suffer if I don’t evacuate?

Sheltering is currently considered to be the best option for everyone; this is because buildings protect people by reducing their exposure to substances in outdoor air.

The situation is being continually reviewed by responders. The need to relocate residents is dependent on a number of factors such as physical risk from the fire itself, particulate matter in the smoke, the likely duration of the incident and the weather conditions.

If you are experiencing health effects that you think may be related to the incident, seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

 

Why are schools treated differently to workplaces, nurseries and old people’s homes?

The current advice is precautionary as:

  • Children can be more susceptible to chemical exposure than adults

  • Children at school have to be outside at points during the day. With adults this is voluntary

  • Schools produce a significant proportion of peak-time traffic and this could potentially lead to traffic problems

  • Nurseries are normally local to parents and can follow the "stay in" principle.

 

Am I going to be evacuated from my home?

Sheltering is currently considered to be the best option and there are no plans at this time to evacuate anyone. However, the situation is being continually reviewed and you will be informed if we no longer consider that sheltering is the best option.

 

Monitoring

Why are you monitoring the air?

We are monitoring the air at locations within the area to help us to make decisions on whether it is safe to carry on sheltering / return to your homes. We are also using the monitoring results to observe the effects of firefighting activities at the site on the production of smoke.

 

What chemicals are in the smoke and what is being monitored for?

Monitoring is focussing on particulate matter; we know that exposure to very high levels of particulate matter is associated with short term health effects such as respiratory irritation.

Monitoring for particulate matter also serves as a proxy for other chemicals that may be present, including irritant gases. These chemicals may also produce discomfort and short lived effects such as throat, nose and eye irritation.

Public Health England (PHE) has produced a report on possible products of combustion that may be found in smoke (depending on what is burning): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/203572/HPA_Chemical_Hazards_17.pdf (page 30)

 

Health Effects

Could my health be affected by the smoke from the fire?

Anyone can be affected by smoke, although, in general, exposure to smoke is more likely to affect people who already have breathing problems or lung or heart conditions (e.g. bronchitis, asthma, chronic pulmonary disease or heart disease). The very young and very old, smokers and people with flu or flu-like illnesses may also be at greater risk from exposure to smoke from fires. People who are generally fit and well are unlikely to experience long-term health problems from temporary exposure to smoke from a fire. To minimise your exposure, shelter as much as possible by limiting the amount of time you spend outside in the smoke.

 

If I am exposed to smoke, what symptoms am I likely to get?

Some of the substances present in smoke can irritate the lining of the air passages (nose, throat and lungs), the skin and the eyes. Symptoms may include coughing and wheezing, sore throat, feeling short of breath, sputum (phlegm) production, runny nose or eyes or chest pain. If symptoms persist seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

 

I think that my health has been affected; what should I do?

If you are exposed to smoke you may experience immediate symptoms such as coughing, tight chest or a sore throat. These symptoms usually disappear very soon after the exposure has stopped and do not lead to any long-term health problems. Continue to minimise your exposure to smoke and if your eyes are sore, bathe them with cold tap water until they feel comfortable; drinking water or sucking a sweet will ease an irritated throat; if you suffer from asthma and the smoke triggers an asthma attack, use the inhalers you normally use to relieve the attack. If your symptoms persist seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating your existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

 

I am pregnant; will the smoke affect my baby?

Your unborn baby is at no greater risk from the smoke and is generally protected by you from any exposure. It is extremely unlikely that any chemicals in smoke would affect the unborn child of a mother who is fit and well. However, in general, when you are pregnant it is important to avoid contact with chemical and environmental hazards as much as possible; it is therefore important to follow the advice to [shelter indoors / evacuate].

 

What about the health of young children?

Children may be more susceptible to the effects of short-term exposure to smoke. Parents should ensure that children are exposed to smoke as little as possible. If you are concerned that the health of your baby or child has been affected seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

 

Will I suffer any long-term effects from breathing in the smoke?

During long-running fires, concentrations of substances in smoke are often below those which pose an immediate risk to health, but may still result in discomfort or temporary health effects. It should be remembered that short-term, temporary effects do not mean that long-term health effects should be expected. Those people who are affected will mostly have immediate effects such as coughing or a tight chest. These symptoms usually disappear very soon after the exposure has stopped and do not lead to any long term health problems.

 

Is my risk of cancer higher because of exposure to smoke from the fire?

It is generally accepted, when considering carcinogens (cancer causing agents), that long-term exposure is necessary to produce measurable health effects in populations. Much of what we know about the carcinogenicity of chemicals is derived from studies of long-term exposure in occupational settings (often for years) and from studies of life-time exposures of experimental animals. Short-lived exposures to chemicals present in smoke are not likely to lead to detectable increases in cancers in exposed populations, particularly those who have minimized their exposure by sheltering.

 

My garden is covered in a layer of soot, is this harmful to me or my animals?

PHE would not expect there to be a significant risk from short-term contact with soot. Because of its size it is unlikely that it could be inhaled if disturbed and so would be unlikely to cause any respiratory symptoms. It can safely be washed off cars and outdoor furniture.

 

Will I still be able to eat fruit and vegetables from my garden?

If any fruits and vegetables in the garden have been covered by a sooty deposit it would be advisable to wash them thoroughly and peel them before they are eaten. The Food Standards Agency will be able to provide further advice on food safety.

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