If you live in an area impacted by forest fire smoke, ramp up your lung protection.

Pollutant emitted by forest fire causes DNA damage and lung cell death

Scientists performed tests with particles from forest and crop fires in the Amazon. Not only did they induce inflammation, oxidative stress and genetic damage in human lung cells, but they also drove one-third of the cultured cells to death.

When exposed in a laboratory to pollution levels comparable to those found in the atmosphere of the Amazon region during the forest and crop burning season, human lung cells suffer severe DNA damage and stop dividing. After 72 hours of exposure, over 30% of the cultured cells are dead.

The main culprit appears to be retene, a chemical compound that belongs to the class of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

"All this damage was observed in only 24 hours of exposure," Alves Brito said. "As time passed, the genetic damage increased, and the cells entered a process of apoptosis [non-inflammatory programmed cell death] and necrosis [unprogrammed cell death in which cells release their contents into the extracellular environment, inducing inflammation at the site]."

Whereas only 2% of control cells had died from necrosis after 72 hours, in the culture treated with pollutants, cell mortality reached 33%.

"Not all the cells die, but the survivors suffer DNA damage, which may predispose them to the development of cancer in future," Alves Brito said.

Looking to protect your lungs from the wildfire smoke? Not all mask...

Skip the dust or surgical masks and look for ones with a particulate respirator, SFGate says. Look for the ones that are “NIOSH-approved” and marked N95, N100 or P100 that have two straps.

I've tried an N95 mask and found it quite difficult to breathe through it. If you're at home I strongly recommend running a room HEPA filter instead. This is the Electrolux oxygen ultra model that's running within arm's reach of me right now. It has a sensor to smell pollution and automatically increase speed.

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