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State of the Air report underscores wildfire smoke impact on air quality in the Pacific NW

View of City of Spokane downtown buildings through trees.

In its annual State of the Air Report released today, the American Lung Association assigned poor air quality grades to the Spokane metro area, along with many other western cities affected by wildfire smoke. The report includes three years of air quality data, 2018, 2019, and 2020. During that period, Spokane’s air quality failed to meet health-based standards on a total of 23 days, all due to wildfire smoke.

“The report reflects what we’ve all come to realize – wildfires aren’t going away anytime soon and where there is fire, there is smoke,” said Scott K. Windsor, Executive Director of the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air.)

“It’s also important to note that over the three years or 1,096 days, the Spokane area experienced healthy air quality on 1,073 of those days. The vast majority of our days in Spokane are healthy air quality days,” added Windsor.

While forestry, land managers and other experts identify and implement strategies to reduce wildfires, air quality and health agencies focus on helping residents prepare and plan for wildfire smoke to protect their health.

“The report reflects what we’ve all come to realize – wildfires aren’t going away anytime soon and where there is fire, there is smoke.”

Scott K. Windsor, Executive Director of the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency

“At the federal, state and local levels, air quality and health organizations collaborate to develop and provide information to help residents prepare in advance for wildfire smoke,” Windsor added.

Locally, preparations for wildfire smoke begin in the Spring.  Spokane Clean Air and several other state and local agencies, including the Spokane Regional Health District, the National Weather Service Spokane office, Spokane County Emergency Management, the City of Spokane, and state agencies including Department of Health, Department of Ecology, and Labor & Industries, and other agencies work together to develop consistent health messages and actions individuals can take to reduce their exposure to smoke.

“Inhaling smoke isn’t good for anybody and is especially harmful to those whose health conditions make them vulnerable,” said Dr. Francisco Velazquez, Health Officer, Spokane Regional Health District. “It is important, especially as we are still experiencing cases of COVID-19, which also injures our respiratory system, that we plan and prepare to limit exposure to wildfire smoke. Follow breathing management plans, keep medications on hand and contact your health provider if necessary.”

“Emergency Management collaborated with partners on a Public Service Announcement to educate the community about Wildfire Smoke and the actions they can take. Collaborating with partners is essential to our mission, and we’re happy to continue working together to provide consistent messaging to the community,” said Simone Ramel-McKay, Alert & Warning Coordinator for Spokane County Emergency Management.

June 13-17 is Smoke Ready week, a week when clean air and health agencies across the region promote preparedness measures people can take, such as assessing their home’s air filtration system, purchasing a HEPA portable air cleaner or materials to build a DIY box fan to create a cleaner-air space in their homes, just to name a few. Information will be disseminated in several ways, including local news media, public service announcements, Washington State Smoke Blog, materials at local organizations and community centers, and a social media campaign.