State: Wildfires could lower air quality across Washington

August 17, 2010

By Staff

NEW — 8 a.m. Aug. 17, 2010

Smoke from wildfires in Washington and British Columbia could impact air quality throughout the Evergreen State, the state Department of Ecology announced Monday.

Forecasters expect the trend to continue for the next few days, but some the hazy skies could start to clear by Wednesday.

“Smoke from a wildfire can travel rapidly, affecting air quality hundreds of miles downwind from the fire’s location,” Stu Clark, air quality program manager for the agency, said in a news release. “Smoke pollutes the air you breathe and harms your health, especially if you have existing health conditions.”

The state Department of Health recommends for people sensitive to air pollution limit the time they spend outdoors.

The biggest health threat from smoke comes from the fine particles. These tiny particles can get into eyes and lungs, and can cause burning eyes, runny noses and illness, such as bronchitis. The particles also can aggravate heart and lung diseases.

Children can be more susceptible to smoke because their respiratory systems continue to develop, they breather more air — and air pollution — per pound of body weight than adults and they tend to be more active outdoors.

High smoke levels might affect even healthy people. Follow these steps to remain healthy:

  • Pay attention to air quality reports. The state Department of Ecology uses the Washington Air Quality Advisory to inform people about the health effects of air pollution. The advisory includes information about ground-level ozone, fine particles and carbon monoxide.
  • Use common sense. The air quality advisory might not have immediate information on conditions in specific areas. Avoid going for a jog, mowing the lawn or allowing children to play outdoors if conditions outside appears or smells smoky.
  • People with asthma or other lung diseases should follow a doctor’s directions on taking medicines and asthma management. Call a doctor if symptoms worsen.
  • People with heart or lung disease, and older adults, should talk with their doctors about whether and when to should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors.
  • Some room air cleaners can help reduce particulate levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for a home. Learn more about home air cleaners here.
  • Do not assume paper “comfort” or “dust masks” are the answer. The kinds of masks commonly for sale at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust, but they generally will not protect lungs from the fine particles in smoke.
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