Dear Outdoor Joe, Can Poison Ivy Go Airborne?

Posted on 10/08/2020 at 03:28 PM by Tom Swegle

Illustration of a wood chipper cutting up a log and poison ivy

Smoke from burning poison ivy can be harmful but what about other airborne threats?

Every month we receive tons of letters, emails, and messages via carrier pigeon about the various fear, Outdoor Joe is here for you! As much as Joe is a poison ivy pro, sometimes he likes to call in the big dogs for a closer look and deeper analysis.

 

This month, Joe and a friend dive deep into the dangers (or lack thereof?) of airborne urushiol after receiving a letter from an Outdoor Joe fan, Laurie.

 

Dear Outdoor Joe,

 

If someone is wood chipping trees and poison ivy, oak, and/or sumac become chipped along with the trees (our back yard area is full of all three), can it become airborne, and if so how far can it travel in the air?

 

Also, how long does it take to dissipate in the air?

 

Another question, will the airborne urushiol get into my central air unit and enter the inside of my house?

 

Thanks for any help you can provide, I truly appreciate it!

 

Laurie

 

Well Laurie, that’s a great series of questions! Though we’ve explained the dangers of the airborne threat caused by burning poison ivy before, we’ve never really addressed what can happen if actual fragments of urushiol bearing plants are tossed into the air. To get a truly comprehensive answer, we reached out to our good friend and renowned horticulturist, “Mr. Poison Ivy” himself, Umar Mycka. With over 30 years of studying the poison trio (ivy, oak, sumac), Umar has built a reputation of providing the most current and reliable info when it comes to questions like this. Here’s what Mr. Poison Ivy had to say:

 

Hi Laurie,

 

Thank you for asking some probing questions concerning the transmission of poison ivy resin through the air by methods other than direct touch. Direct contact between a person’s skin and poison ivy plant parts is the surest way of contracting the rash.

 

Other than direct contact there must be a “ fomite” or “ fomes”. A fomite or fomes is any inanimate object that, when contaminated with or exposed to infectious agents can transfer disease [or in this case, the irritating resin urushiol] to a new host. Air is not a fomite for poison ivy resin, the toxic resin isn’t volatized or spread thru the air.

 

Chipping branches or tree trunks with clinging poison ivy vines or branches would, if at all, only spread the fomite acting dust for the amount of time it took for the dust to settle to the ground.  This would most likely be a matter of seconds or a few minutes at most. Once in the yard, the subsequent rainfall contacting this dust would make it quickly non-reactive to the touch of human skin. I believe that a matter of a rainfall (or even the effects of high humidity) would inactivate the poison ivy resin particles on the dust grains.

 

To address the fomite dust laden air entering the air intake ducts of a central air conditioning system, I would believe that any intake ducts would be protected by filters which would certainly block the entrance of any dust, and I believe the chances of any of the resin laden dust getting to the filter is very minimal.

 

I hope this insight helps answer your questions.

 

It does take a shift in thinking because the reaction is so strong when the resin touches skin, but it becomes less of a threat when fomite and water moisture is added to the contact equation.

 

Best regards,

 

Umar Mycka

"Mr. Poison Ivy"

 

We’d like to thank Umar Mycka for taking the time to answer Laurie’s questions! If you’ve ever wondered just how bad things can get from being exposed to poison ivy, you may want to check out this great video that addresses many of the most common questions we get asked such as:

  • How can I get poison ivy?

  • Can I get poison ivy without touching it?

  • Can pets spread poison ivy?

  • Can dead plants still be a threat?

  • What actually causes the reaction?

Everything You Need to Know About Poison Ivy*

* The following video shows examples of a severe reaction to poison ivy and may not be suitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

We hope this helps ease some of your fears about the airborne threat of urushiol!

With Love,
Outdoor Joe

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