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What to do after the smoke clears in WNY; wildfires still burn in Canada

Western New Yorkers can use this weekend's improved weather to replace filters, wash cars and make sure HVAC systems are good to go.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The prospect of good weather this weekend will offer Western New Yorkers a chance to clean up from this week's historic severe wildfire smoke pollution. 

Air quality alerts from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were still in effect Friday. However, the air quality index fell to more bearable levels.  Late Friday afternoon, they hit a high of 102 during the day, falling at one point to 71.  

A reading between 51-100 is considered "moderate," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  To put this into context, the index hit a high of 242 Wednesday in Western New York making it hard for a lot of people to breathe. 

Now that the air has cleared, car mechanics and HVAC professionals who spoke to 2 On Your Side suggest everyone consider some preventive maintenance in the aftermath of the smoke.

The mechanics at Buffalo's Fox Tire were busy with their usual tune ups and the added work from the smoke.  "We've had some that have animal nests, some that are just completely clogged with dirt, and that's all terrible for your respiratory system," Anthony Guthrie, General Manager at Fox Tire, said.

Guthrie showed off an air filter that was rife with dirt and debris and needed to be replaced immediately. 

He pointed out the importance of a car's cabin air filter and the engine air filter. The cabin air filter is responsible for filtering the air that flows into the car and can get extremely dirty quickly when air quality decreases. 

Guthrie said that there were two to three times more pollutants than normal in the air, and that can shorten the life of the best air filters. 

According to Guthrie, the cabin air filter is a "last line of defense" for drivers and passengers on the road.

Tony Cellino, the owner of Cellino Plumbing and HVAC, noted the important role filters play in keeping the air clean inside your house. 

"Once those get clogged up, it's not gonna work properly," Cellino said. "You're gonna get ice build up so your air conditioner's not gonna work properly, so it's very important to clean those things out," Cellino said.

He tells customers to change air filters, especially on newer equipment.

Celino also advises people to let their homes vent and points out that chemicals from candles, air fresheners, and other artificial scents contribute to the dirt that can clog a filter.

"The stuff inside our home is probably worse," Cellino said.

Ash 'could become corrosive'

AAA also chimed in, releasing a press release recommending things people can do to protect their car's paint job. 

"Once water makes contact with the ash, it could become corrosive," the press release warned. It says people should be gentle when removing the layer of soot when they wash their cars. 

AAA said using a leaf blower to remove soot is a bad idea and strongly recommended against it. "Using a leaf blower to clear dust off the vehicles may seem like a good idea, but area health officials warn against sending the ash back into the air."

Gently washing by hand with a pH-balanced car wash soap and waxing afterward to create a protective coat is best for your set of wheels according to the car club.

AAA also outlined other ways to protect a car's finish, like parking your vehicle in a covered shelter or using a car cover. Gently washing by hand with a pH-balanced car wash soap and waxing afterward to create a protective coat is also suggested.

If you are looking to do it yourself and purchase a better filter for your car or home, consider using a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.  They are available at most local auto parts stores and can stop 99.97% of particles from entering your car.

Home filters use minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) ratings. HEPA filters are the highest rated, but standard house filters generally come with MERV ratings of 5-13, which means they filter about 20-90% of the particulates in the air.

A MERV 5 filter from Filtrete costs $5.24 at Walmart, while a MERV 13 runs $24.86 before tax. 

The difference? A MERV 5 filters particulates between 3-10 microns, or roughly 20% of pollutants. A MERV 13 filters particulates as small as 0.3-1.0 microns, or roughly 95% of pollutants. 

Replacing air filters in your home and car will help Western New Yorkers breathe easy now that the smoke has cleared.


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