(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Washington Air quality is the worst in the country thanks to Canadian wildfires…
How bad is the air quality because of wildfire smoke?
By most measures, pretty bad.
While there is no nearby wildfires for the Chewelah area, fires in Canada, Montana and Washington have combined to make the valley a smoky vista the past few days.
More than 20 major wildfires are currently burning in British Columbia. It’s a record-breaking fire season for our neighbors to the north. Over a million acres have burned in the providence this year, costing $172.5 million in damages and requiring over 4,000 firefighters.
With warm continental winds pushing the smoke south over basically the entire state of Washington, air quality has dropped to the nation’s worst. Portland and Spokane suffering from air quality that is worse than normally smog-ridden cities like Mexico City and Beijing.
People in Washington are being urged to stay indoors because of the air quality. And, for at least the time being, the smoke is sticking around. Some western winds will possibly improve the air conditions in the next few days, it’s not powerful enough to flush the smoke out. Expect air quality ranging from moderate to unhealthy in the new few days.
Eastern Washington is being more impacted than the coast, but the area will have stronger winds that could possibly ventilate the Columbia Basin. This side of the state could see some good air quality areas by Saturday evening.
“We want people to stay indoors if possible,” Washington Department of Ecology Air Quality Communications Manager Camille St. Onge said. “This is not the time to exercise outside so hold off on that 5K training run you had planned.”
Seattle is getting a double-edged sword effect from the smoke. While it has made the air quality bad, it is also serving as a sunshine shield to help provide a little relief from what was expected to be a triple-digit heat wave. Instead the Emerald City is in the high 90s.
So what is the air quality like? Lets just say you shouldn’t be canning and selling this stuff.
The way air pollution is measured is a daily average of particle pollution per cubic meter. Anything up to 12 micrograms is considered healthy.
Anywhere between 20-34 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Readings above 135 are considered so bad they severely can impact many individuals
Colville’s air quality on Friday afternoon was measured at 169.
Cheeka Peak, located in Western Washington is considered a location with some of the cleanest air in the state on average. The Canadian smoke however, caused the air quality to plummet (or rise) to a reading of 208.
“Cheeka Peak is near a shipping lane on the coast,” Mike Ragan, Ecology’s air monitoring coordinator said. “That’s not where we expect to see dense air pollution.”
When it came to predicting this smoke, Forecasters and the Department of Ecology saw this coming but did not expect it to be this severe.
“We knew a lot of smoke would transport from the B.C. fires, but this really is unprecedented,” said Ranil Dhammapala, an Ecology atmospheric scientist.
St. Onge said the state of Washington has never been blanketed entirely like this.
So what is the normal person to do? Do as they’re told. Stay indoors. Avoid doing strenuous activities outside. Turn air conditioners to recirculate mode and use a HEPA filter if needed. The EPA is also recommending that sensitive individuals should wear N95 masks.
“We know these are difficult conditions and people are suffering,” St. Onge said. “ Please stay in contact with your health department for local resources. Some of them are handing out masks.”
The Tri-County Health Department has sent out a release warning people with asthma, lung and heart disease have an increased risk of symptoms or worsening of their disease if they stay outside for prolonged periods.
“Under these conditions, even healthy people can have breathing problems,” the release said. “It should be stressed that wildfire smoke is not a major health threat for most people under most conditions. However, for sensitive groups, it can be a serious issue.”
The district also commended people with chronic disease to check with their healthcare provider before wearing a mask as it sometimes can make it more difficult to break.
“If you have symptoms of lung or heart disease that have been worsened by smoke exposure, contact your health care provider as soon as you can,” the release said.
With school and school athletic activities beginning soon, the school guide, Air Pollution and School Activities (available on the Washington State Department of Health website: www.doh.wa.gov), provides recommendations for recess, P.E., and athletic events/practices. If assistance is needed in making determinations on levels of air quality and school activities, contact the Northeast Tri County Health District Colville Environmental Health Office at (509) 684-2262.