EPA: Wildfire smoke poses a health threat

Smoke from wildfires in the region encases Omak, as seen from Kermel Grade on Sept. 8. Omak Middle School and Omak High School are in the foreground. Several sporting events, school recesses and outdoor practices were canceled. Thick smoke finally cleared up Saturday, Sept. 9, as wind and a little rain were felt in the Okanogan Valley.

SEATTLE – Smoke from wildfires poses a health threat for people who breathe it because fine particles can lodge in the lungs, making it difficult for the lungs to expel them naturally over time.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said microscopic particles, measuring 2.5 microns or smaller, can get into people’s eyes and respiratory systems, causing burning eyes, runny noses, persistent coughing and aggravations to illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis.

Nearly everyone suffers from short-term exposure, but the elderly, children and those with impaired breathing can experience serious risks from breathing smoke, EPA officials warn. Fine smoke particles can aggravate asthma, and chronic heart and lung diseases. They are linked to premature deaths in people enduring such conditions.

Meanwhile, Okanogan County Public Health is urging schools, parents and guardians to make sure their children are protected from air quality levels in the “unhealthy” to “hazardous” ranges that have been seen in the area in recent days. Children with chronic conditions such as asthma are especially vulnerable to poor air quality, agency officials said.

Most area schools have been keeping children indoors for recess and sports practices, and canceling or rescheduling outdoor sporting events.

EPA recommends avoiding breathing smoke, and offers some tips for when smoke – from wildfires or other sources - is present:

•Prevent wildfires from starting. - Prepare, build, maintain and extinguish campfires safely. Be aware of burn bans and follow local regulations when burning outdoors.

Carefully follow all state and local restrictions to prevent forest fires from starting. Be careful not to drag trailer chains, which can spark and ignite dry, roadside brush.

•Check local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Numbers can be checked at AirNow.gov. In addition, pay attention to public health messages about safety measures.

•Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to mow the lawn, dig up that old, broken irrigation line or go for a run. Anything that causes heavier breathing will increase exposure to fine smoke particles.

Children should play indoors until the smoke dissipates.

•Follow advisories to stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Avoid wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves, candles and smoking.

•People who have asthma or other breathing impairments should follow doctor’s advisories. Seek medical help if symptoms worsen. Staying indoors with windows closed can be dangerous in hot weather without an air conditioner, so it may be better to see alternative shelter.

More information is available at https://cfpub.epa.gov/airnow/index.cfm?action=smoke.index. Real-time air quality monitoring information is available at http://wasmoke.blogspot.com, airnow.gov and https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/.

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