Wildfires are burning throughout California, and health officials are warning residents in burn areas to take precautions when cleaning up ash that has fallen on to their property. Depending on where the ash comes from, it can be toxic.
Ash from burned homes may contain more toxic substances than forest fire ash because synthetic materials such as metal, chemicals and asbestos are present. If this ash is breathed in or touched with wet skin, it can enter the bloodstream and cause major health problems. Wet ash can also cause chemical burns.
Public health officials said residents should not clean up ash while it is still falling. Once it is safe to clean up, ash should be moistened before it is wiped or swept up to avoid stirring up harmful dust. Also, wiping dry ash from a vehicle can scratch the paint.
If you have to clean up ash, wear a well-fitting dust mask to avoid breathing in particles, and wear gloves, a long sleeve shirt and pants to avoid skin contact. If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible.
Sources: OC Register and the California Air Resource Board