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Air quality suffers as Washington experiences the largest wildfire in state history

The recent wildfires in Washington and Oregon have now wreaked a toll of 900,000 charred acres - making it the largest wildfire in Washington state history. Damages include destroyed property, thousands of displaced animals and people, hazardous air quality for community members and, most unfortunate of all, the loss of three brave firefighters (Seattle times, 2015).

With air quality index ratings exceeding 200, it is important to understand the continued impact the Washington wildfires could have on one’s health.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles that are produced when organic matter and wood are burnt (EPA, 2015). The concentration of gases and particles is dependent on a variety of factors including the intensity of the fire, wind, and materials burnt. The greatest health risk from smoke comes in the form of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). These microscopic particles have the ability to get into your eyes and lungs, causing an array of health issues from burning eyes, dizziness, and respiratory illnesses to long-term cardiovascular diseases (EPA, 2015).

Since wind has the ability to transport smoke over vast distances, state health officials have warned that smoke from the Washington fires could increase health concerns for people in approximately 11 counties (Robinson, 2015).

Meanwhile, on the local level, government officials are monitoring air quality regularly and keeping communities informed and advised. One initial hurdle, however, to achieving pure air quality data, is getting monitoring stations into the rural areas where the fires are taking place (Lewis, 2015). To do so, the U.S Forest Service has deployed mobile air quality monitoring networks to collect important air pollution data (Lewis, 2015). This information is then sent to the state, so that the state can communicating the information to the public.

For those concerned about air pollution in your town or city - the council of Environmental Quality in America recommends the following:

  1. Check monitoring websites to create an awareness of airborne pollution concentrations in your area – avoid areas with high concentrations.
  2. Stay indoors when AQI levels are high. Close all doors and windows. Use a filter to recirculate the air in your heating/cooling system.
  3. Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.
  4. If possible, wear a N-95 respirator mask when outdoors.

It’s estimated that fires may continue to burn until mid October – when cooler temperatures, and Fall rains could combine to finally put them out.

Are you experiencing poor air quality conditions? What does the sky look like where you are? Send us a picture on twitter @ MyAirVisual or tag us on Instagram @ Air.Visual

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