Smoke from forest fires creating ‘unhealthy,’ ‘very unhealthy’ air quality

Posted 9/16/20

Thick smoke from forest fires in the Pacific Northwest have led to health warnings and air quality alerts for Jefferson County and 13 other counties in Western Washington.

Four agencies — …

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Smoke from forest fires creating ‘unhealthy,’ ‘very unhealthy’ air quality

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Thick smoke from forest fires in the Pacific Northwest have led to health warnings and air quality alerts for Jefferson County and 13 other counties in Western Washington.

Four agencies — the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, Northwest Clean Air Agency, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and Southwest Clean Air Agency — issued an “air quality alert” Monday for Jefferson as well as Clallam, Kitsap, Mason, Island, Grays Harbor, King, Lewis, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston, and Whatcom counties.

The alert warned that air quality would be “Unhealthy,” “Very Unhealthy,” and “Hazardous”  across most of Western Washington due to abundant smoke.

Air quality, as measured at the Port Townsend-San Juan monitoring station in Port Townsend, showed “very unhealthy” levels from 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, followed by “unhealthy” levels from 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept 12 to
11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.

Measurements returned to the “very unhealthy” level from noon Sunday, Sept. 13 to midnight Monday, Sept. 14.

“Unhealthy” air quality levels were recorded through Monday at the Port Townsend-San Juan monitoring station.

The two highest reports of “very unhealthy” levels in Port Townsend were reported at 6 p.m. Sept. 11 (170.3 micrograms per cubic meter, or µg/m3) and 9 p.m.
Sept. 11 (179.6 µg/m3).

According to health officials “very unhealthy” to “hazardous” air quality means everyone should stay indoors and avoid all strenuous activity. Officials also noted that people with heart or lung disease, or those who have had a stroke, should consult their health care provider about leaving the area and wearing a properly-fitted respiratory mask if they must go outdoors.

The poor air quality throughout the county left Jefferson County commissioners wondering about the possibility of opening a “clean air” shelter for those who are homeless.

Social-distancing requirements still in place, however, does not give the county the ability to open the library as a shelter, commissioners noted during their meeting Monday.

Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Willie Bence said officials have had discussions on the need for a clean air shelter, and added that, while bad, the air quality in Jefferson County has been better than in urban areas such as Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

The county has received permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute N95 respirator masks to the unsheltered population.

Police and fire departments have been contacted to see if they can assist with distributing masks, he told commissioners at their meeting Monday.

The poor air quality outside runs counter to suggestions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, officials added, such as spending time outdoors and keeping windows open to increase the flow of air.

Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Monday the unhealthy air quality is presenting “an extra and unwanted challenge” to school reopenings over the past week.

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