BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Winds have caused wildfire smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fire to drift into Bakersfield causing the air quality to worsen. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is reporting the air quality in Bakersfield is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Medical professionals say the exposure to smoke and other pollutants also poses a risk for long term health effects.
“A lot of my patients are having a lot of respiratory issues," Pulmonologist Mushtag Ahmed said.
Mushtag Ahmed is a pulmonologist at the San Joaquin Valley Pulmonary Medical group in Bakersfield. He says smoke in the air is making Bakersfield residents sick.
“They are having more tightness in the chest. Some patients may have to go to the emergency room," Ahmed said.
Michael Benjamin with the California Air Resources Board says smog is usually worse when warm climate and lack of rain triggers a build up of air pollution.
"The mountains that surround the Bakersfield area tend to trap air pollution so it doesn’t get dispersed," Benjamin said.
Meredith Kurpius with the Environmental Protection Agency says this is because Bakersfield is at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley basin - where trends show air quality is worse.
“We have definitely seen Bakersfield have among the highest air pollution levels for certain pollutants in the country," Kurpius said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we breathe in particles in the air caused by pollutants like dust, dirt, and smoke. Even though we can't see these particles, they can be harmful to us.
“The size allows those particles to penetrate deep into the human lungs and then the smallest particles can actually pass into the bloodstream and travel to the heart and so what we know is that particulate air pollution has known linkages to not just lung disease but also to heart issues and it can cause heart problems," Benjamin said.
Ahmed says smoke exposure can lead to long term health issues.
“The gas is what we are talking about the carbon monoxide. It can be a life threatening problem they are harmful and can last longer. Cancer in the long run, yes, because it is a hydrocarbon, you're inhaling a hydrocarbon and they can sit inside and long term effects can cause malignant and there have been reported cases for that," Ahmed said.
"It's a real concern for people who are lets say working in the fields or working in occupations outside like construction where they're going to be outside in eventually smoky air for weeks at a time," Benjamin said.
Experts are advising Kern county residents to stay inside.
"The only real preventative mechanism that we can rely on at this time is masks," Benjamin said.
"The best masks at this time is called N-95 or P-100. These are special masks that will protect you more," Ahmed said.
Benjamin says state and federal agencies partner together to reduce air pollution from other common sources like cars, trucks, and industrial operations.
Kurpius says rain is needed to help wash out some of the pollutants in the air.
The EPA has resources available so you can monitor your exposure to smoke and other pollutants at airnow.gov.