Smoke and poor air quality a new reality for Spokane, health experts say

Despite seeing unhealthy air quality at the beginning of the month, with this cool and rainy weather we’ve been seeing, fire season and smoke might not be the first thing on your mind.

But health experts say, now is the time to start preparing because smoke and air pollution can be hard to forecast and if a fire starts and the wind shifts, it can become a problem quite quickly.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said Lisa Woodard, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency. “The year 2015 was a gamechanger, that was the year when we were first significantly impacted by wildfire smoke.”

The following year stayed mild, but since then the smoke has settled in.

“The last two years have been very bad,” she said. “We had a 24 hour period that registered as very unhealthy, and that is almost unheard of in this area.”

Though air pollution can come in many sizes, that smoke is often made up of microscopic particles which can be dangerous for us.

“I want people to understand that there are no levels of wildfire smoke that are healthy,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, Health Officer at the Spokane Regional Health District.

He said that breathing those particles in can cause inflammation in the lungs, and even enter into the blood stream, impacting the whole body.

Elderly individuals, pregnant woman, young children and folks with lung or hear trouble can be especially impacted by smoke.

Lutz’s best advice when smoke is present is to get indoors and stay there.

“I don’t want masks giving people a false sense of security. I would rather them be indoors,” he said. “The reality is that very few people will have properly fitted N95 masks and for many people, if you have facial hair, or are a child, an N95 mask is not going to work.”

He says if you are at risk, make sure you speak with your doctors to prepare, which may involve getting extra medications.

To be inside only goes so far though, if you don’t have clean air filters.

“If you are not able to ensure a clean air space in your entire home, designate a room where you can have an air filter going,” said Woodard.

Both say that our area is going to need to begin adapting to the reality of smoke and fire season. Lutz says that as a health district, they are going to look into setting additional standards for when to tell businesses and other groups to stay indoors or end activities, and Woodard says everyone should have a plan B for what to do during the tough months, if going outside is not an option.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency monitors the area’s air quality and post hourly updates. More information can be found by clicking here to go their website.

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