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Wildfire Smoke Causes Unhealthy Air Quality

Smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California have traveled to the Pacific Northwest and have affected the air quality. The EPA indicates that the current air quality in the Puget Sound region is“unhealthy.” The forecast for tomorrow’s air quality is “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

EPA Forecast Discussion: “For Sep. 12-15: Saturday morning update. Air quality is unhealthy and very unhealthy across the region. We expect unhealthy air on Saturday and unhealthy for sensitive groups on Sunday. Winds blowing from the west should begin to clear out the smoke by late Sunday or early next week. However, we may continue to see smoke enter our region throughout the week. Conditions are changing rapidly, we will update this forecast frequently until air quality improves. Fire marshals in our four-county area of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties have issued burn bans prohibiting outdoor burning including recreational fires.”

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From EPA

What are the health effects of wildfire smoke?
From the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department 

When air quality is unhealthy, everyone may experience health effects. Unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke is an added concern for people with COVID-19. Pollutants from the smoke can create more risk for people from this sensitive group and could even worsen their symptoms.

Other sensitive groups are:

  • People with respiratory infections like the cold or flu.
  • People with heart or lung disease, such as asthma or COPD.
  • Adults over age 65.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Children and infants.
  • Diabetics.
  • Smokers.
  • People living with obesity.
  • People with respiratory infections, such as cold or flu.

Health effects include worsening of heart or lung disease, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, coughing, eye, and sinus irritation.

How can I protect my health from smoky air? 

  • Contact your healthcare provider if you experience troubling symptoms. For emergencies, call 9-1-1.
  • When the air quality is poor:
    • Avoid physical exertion and stay indoors as much as possible.
    • Keep doors and windows closed when possible.
    • Use a HEPA air cleaner. Avoid air cleaners with ionizing or electrostatic features.
    • Run an air conditioner (if you have one) and set it to re-circulate.
    • Limit other indoor air pollution. Don’t smoke/vape and don’t vacuum or use strong cleaning products and fragrances. Don’t burn candles or incense.

Everyone’s health is unique. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have health concerns.

Should I wear a mask?

Certain types of masks can offer protection from wildfire smoke, but they could make breathing more difficult for some people. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider if a mask is right for you. To be effective, masks must fit correctly.

Cloth masks don’t provide adequate protection from wildfire smoke. N95 face masks do provide adequate protection. This type of mask is also what healthcare providers, first responders, and others use to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of ongoing supply shortages, we recommend you save N95 or other medical-grade masks for them. An alternative is to create a clean room in your home to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke indoors.

Continue to wear cloth masks, practice physical distancing, keep gatherings small, and follow our other guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19.

You don’t have to be an expert to know when air quality is bad in Pierce County. Trust your eyes and nose and make sure you monitor air quality reports. Find reliable information about wildfire smoke and your health at www.tpchd.org/wildfiresmoke. Pierce County Department of Emergency Management has up to date information about local wildfire activity. You can also sign up for alerts.

For more information visit
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency air quality maps (https://secure.pscleanair.org/AirQuality/NetworkMap)
Public Health Seattle- King County health messaging (https://publichealthinsider.com/)
King County Emergency Management Emergency Blog (https://publichealthinsider.com/)


The above information was provided by the EPA, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Last Updated: 09/12/20, 1:58 PM

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