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Washington’s ‘smoke season’ is back. Here’s how to stay safe.

Washington, (Qnnflash) – As the state of Washington anticipates an improvement in air quality for many areas this week, the specter of the “smoke season” still looms over the region. While the situation is expected to ameliorate for some, the Eastern part of the state, grappling with active wildfires, is forecasted to contend with unhealthy air until Wednesday, though gradual enhancements are projected, according to the U.S. Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program. Meanwhile, Western Washington also experienced the impact of smoke from wildfires across the Pacific Northwest, with air quality deteriorating to unhealthy and very unhealthy levels during the weekend. However, this condition was subsequently alleviated by favorable winds.

The duration of the smoke season could extend until October, coinciding with the anticipated cessation of fires due to seasonal rain.

Understanding Air Quality Index (AQI) and Tracking Forecasts:
While detecting poor air quality can often be accomplished by detecting the smell of smoke or experiencing discomfort in the eyes, nose, or throat, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides the platform and a mobile app to obtain accurate information on air quality levels at any given time. The EPA’s Air Quality Index is a measure indicating the level of concern associated with current air pollution levels, particularly for individuals with health vulnerabilities such as asthma, heart or lung ailments, the elderly, and young children.

The main pollutant during smoke events, PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter), is inhalable particles less than 2.5 microns in size. The Washington Smoke Blog, administered by the state’s Departments of Ecology and Health, the U.S. Forest Service, and county health departments, offers real-time and projected air quality information throughout the state. The National Weather Service also disseminates statewide air quality alerts on its official website.

Health Implications of Smoke Exposure:
The Air Quality Index classifies air quality on a scale of 0 to 500, divided into six categories reflecting pollution intensity and associated health risks. An AQI value surpassing 300 is deemed “hazardous” for all individuals. While AQI levels categorized as “good” and “moderate” pose minimal risk to most people, the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” range can adversely impact individuals with conditions like asthma or heart/lung ailments. “Unhealthy” levels and beyond indicate potential health issues for everyone. At the highest level, “Hazardous,” physical outdoor activity should be avoided, and those with health sensitivities are advised to stay indoors.

Long-term exposure to PM 2.5 has led to millions of preventable deaths globally, with around 50,000 fatalities annually in the United States, as per research from McGill University in Canada.

Mitigating Smoke Exposure:
To safeguard health during smoke events, state and local agencies recommend the following measures:

  • Remain indoors and minimize strenuous outdoor activities.
  • Stock up on essentials to limit outdoor excursions.
  • Use N95 masks or particulate respirators when outdoors.
  • Filter indoor air through HVAC or air filtration systems.
  • Refrain from burning candles or starting fires.
  • Close windows and doors to maintain indoor air quality.
  • Address indoor heat through air conditioning, if possible.
  • Consider cleaner-air shelters for relief from smoke and heat.

Seattle’s implementation of cleaner-air shelters has been valuable in offering residents respite from smoke and heat. The state is exploring additional policies to counteract the rise of poor air quality days, including potential regulations for workplaces to enhance protections, medical support, and guidance for employees exposed to outdoor conditions.

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