311_zaka in fire aftermath.
(photo credit: Aharon Baruch Leibovitch)
There are two risk periods for wildfires, Dr. Eric Amster, a public health
researcher from the University of Haifa and Harvard, told The Jerusalem Post
Sunday, as government officials became cautiously optimistic that the fires
would be contained shortly.
“The first phase is damage from the actual
flames, such as burns and smoke inhalation,” Amster explained. “The second phase
is still in effect until around 48 hours afterward, depending on the winds. The
winds carry gases and particulates over a large area, which can cause lung
problems and heart attacks.”
These particulates, if inhaled in large
enough quantities, can exacerbate asthma, cause lung problems and bring on heart
attacks or congestive heart failure, he warned.
“I don't want to alarm
anyone unnecessarily,” he said. “If you can see the flames or smell the flames,
then you should stay indoors with your windows closed. No one should be
exercising outside, particularly not children and the elderly.”
feel shortness of breath or chest pain, then you should head to an emergency
room to get checked out, according to Amster, who has been working with the
governmental public health system since Friday to determine what the
consequences of the fires might be.
He added, however, that a runny nose,
headache or cough is not generally a sign to go to the ER.
“There are two
types of elements being brought from the fire: soot and particulates,” the
Fulbright Scholar said. “Our bodies are good at fighting off soot by coughing it
out, but particulates get through and pose a potential risk, especially in
exacerbating existing conditions.”
Somewhat ironically, because of the
high air pollution in Haifa due to its factories, the city has a great number of
air monitors, Amster said. There are 13 stations in Haifa itself and more in
Tivon, Tirat Carmel and Yokne’am.
“So far it’s just matter from
incomplete combustion of trees [rather than hazardous chemicals],” he said. He
added that he had been contacted within a day by the authorities for his
expertise, and that his recommendations were quickly implemented.
the fires are contained, Amster is also interested in researching the
environmental precursors that may have contributed to the blaze.
Haifa University, we study the effects of climate change. The drought seems to
have played a factor, but a fire always needs a spark. If burning trash is that
spark, then I'd like to see a regulatory system in place that would prohibit it
and fine people,” he said.
In a related matter, the fire retardants that
have been poured on the Carmel area by firefighting aircraft can pose a health
danger if residents and visitors are not careful, the Health Ministry warned on
Comprised of aluminum phosphates, the chemicals are liable to
irritate the respiratory system as well as the eyes. The ministry advised teams
in the field and any others in contact with the chemical on the ground to wear
In the event of symptoms such as coughing, shortness of
breath and chest pains, the sufferer should bathe his whole body. People who
live in areas where the chemicals were used should remain indoors, the ministry
Children should keep their hands clean and not be allowed to play
on affected surfaces or with objects that were sprayed with the
Fortunately, the chemicals have such effects only for short
Dr. Daniel Ben-Dov, chief of the emergency medicine unit at
Haifa’s Carmel Medical Center, added that a number of firefighters and rescue
staffers had come to the hospital with complaints regarding their eyes and the
mucous membranes in their throats, which resulted from exposure to the
chemicals. They were treated and discharged.