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Wildfire smoke expected to impact air quality this weekend

View of downtown Spokane from Kendall Yards

Based on the current smoke forecast models, air quality will likely worsen through the weekend as northeasterly surface winds transport additional wildfire smoke (PM2.5) from the north and east of our area and wildfire smoke begins to form a persistent pool east of the Cascades, according to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air). Although an incoming weather system might improve conditions somewhat, depending on winds and wildfire activity, there is potential for air quality to be in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups category of the Air Quality Index (AQI) or worse on Saturday, July 31 – Monday, August 2.

“It is vital that individuals check current air quality conditions and take the necessary steps to protect their health. Inhaling smoke is not good for anyone, even healthy people. We recommend that people who are sensitive to poor air quality stay indoors and keep their indoor air as clean as possible,” said Dr. Francisco Velázquez, Interim Health Officer for Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD). “You should also keep medications on hand and contact your health provider if necessary.”

Above: Satellite imagery of smoke in the western US on July 30, 2021.

People most likely to have health problems from breathing smoke include:

  • Persons with, or recovering from, COVID-19
  • People with lung diseases (asthma, COPD, bronchitis, emphysema)
  • People with respiratory infections
  • People with existing heart or circulatory problems
  • People with a prior history of heart attack or stroke
  • Infants and children under 18
  • Older adults (over age 65)
  • Pregnant women
  • People who smoke
  • People with diabetes

According to SRHD, some respiratory symptoms including cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing are common to both wildfire smoke and to the COVID-19 virus. Other smoke-related health effects include:

  • Coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and runny nose.
  • If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
  • People who have heart disease might experience chest pain, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
  • If you have a pre-existing respiratory condition such as asthma, COPD (including chronic bronchitis and emphysema), or allergies, smoke may worsen symptoms (inability to breathe normally, cough with or without mucus, chest discomfort, wheezing, and shortness of breath).
  • Seek medical attention when experiencing severe symptoms, such as chest pain or difficulty breathing. Dial 911 for emergency assistance if symptoms are serious.
  • If you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, it is best to treat it like it could be COVID-19. Protect others by staying home. If you are concerned about your health, call your health care provider to discuss COVID-19 testing and other possible reasons for your illness.

Reduce your exposure to smoke:

  • Check local air quality reports at http://www.SpokaneCleanAir.org and listen to news or health warnings for your community. The Air Quality Index categories and recommended actions are here.
  • The best way to protect you and your family this year will be to stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible.
  • Avoid physical exertion outdoors if smoke is in the air.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. Track the air quality and open your windows for fresh air when the air quality improves. Pay attention to the heat indoors. If you don’t have air conditioning and it’s getting too hot, seek shelter a family member’s home. If this is not an option, seek relief somewhere where you can socially distance, especially if you are not vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Improve the filtration in your home. Run an air conditioner, set it to re-circulate and close the fresh-air intake. Make sure to change the filter as the manufacturer recommends. It may fill faster when smoke is prolonged.
  • Create a “clean-air room” in your home using a HEPA filter and change the filter more often when it’s smoky. Some room air cleaners can help reduce particulate levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your home. If you don’t have a HEPA filter, here is a link to a short video on how to make a DIY box fan filter.
  • Avoid adding to indoor pollution. Don’t smoke or use candles, incense, sprays, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Don’t broil or fry food. Don’t vacuum unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home.

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