Is the air safe to breathe?

Many Houston area residents have been noticing and complaining about respitatory issues following the ITC Deer Park facility fire and the resulting smoke. However, symptoms of springtime pollen and other allergens can also cause a lot of the same irritation, making the cause hard to detect.

Dr. Kamran Boka, a pulmonologist at UT Health, discusses the symptoms of smoke irritation and how to treat it properly.

"The first factor is proximity to the actual incident," says Dr. Boka. "The farther out you are, the more probable that it's allergy-based. The closer you are, it's likely to be smoke-based."

Many residents are rushing out to buy drugstore dust and flu masks, but these may lose their efficacy close to the fire. 

"The chemicals within the fire are gasoline additives and ingredients, these are hydrocarbons, which are classicaly volatile or not," said Dr. Boka. "There are only certain masks that are graded to be able to filter that. At the incident site, a chemical filter would be needed."

At-risk populations include the usual vulnerable groups, along with those with chronic lung problems.

"The groups we always worry about in incidents like this are pregnant women, children, and adolescents with asthma issues, eldery with lung-based issues. Anyone with a lung-based problem should be evaluated if there is a concern."

Houston residents have become concerned about what plan of action to take if symptoms do arise, and how urgent they are.

"The warning signs are altered mental status, if they're mentally off, blacked out, or comatose, that person has to go the ER." he says. "If it's not that urgent, they're walking, talking, but having respiratory issues, they should get to an urgent care."