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By Bob Valen 

Do we really know our air quality?


Air quality alerts are common in many regions of the world. The United States experiences air quality alerts regularly too. The causes are wide ranging and many are seasonal in nature.

Of concern in our region is particle pollution. During the summer months, here in the west and northwest, air-quality culprits are primarily wildfires. During the winter months, in some areas, it’s home wood burning coupled with temperature inversions.

As an example, this past Aug. 6, much of the western United States, from Utah west, was affected by the many active wildfires creating an air quality issue over a large area. The Air Quality Index ranged from Moderate through Unhealthy. Here, in the Grand Coulee area, we lived under the Unhealthy standard, meaning, “everyone may begin to experience health effects…. Sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”

The small particulates are the greatest concerns. During the recent wildfires that burned in Northern California, a news article provided this information: “The main danger from wildfire smoke is known as PM2.5 — particles of soot less than 2.5 micrometers across that can cause lung and heart disease. PM2.5 is bad for everyone, but particularly for people who already have conditions like asthma or emphysema, and for children whose lungs are still developing.”

As you likely know, there are other air quality concerns, like ground-level ozone. Ozone isn’t a real concern in our region. We lack the concentration of vehicle traffic and heavy industries that help to contribute to ground-level ozone. Places like Los Angeles are ground-level ozone hotbeds, though LA has been improving.

The quality of the air we breathe every day has long-term implications on our lives. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to an “official” air quality station in our immediate area. Washington State Department of Ecology and other organizations have a network of stations permanently positioned and a few portable units in the state. Though, for us, there are too few, too far away. Currently, the closest is in Omak.

I’ve had conversations with the Department of Ecology over the past few years. They suggested contacting the county health department, which I’ve recently done, and ask that a portable air quality unit be located here during wildfire season. Having a permanent unit installed here doesn’t look realistic at this time; they are pricey items. To be effective, air quality stations should be placed at several local sites. Air movement is fluid, and the concentration of particulates can vary from location to location. Ideally, having several air quality stations scattered about our towns would be ideal.

Here’s the review of what October weather left us. Temperatures ranged from a high of 70.3˚F on the 5th to a low of 29.1˚F on 13th of the month. Our mean for October was 48.0˚F. The all-time mean is 51˚F, while the all-time high was 90˚F way back in 1935. The all-time low was 10˚F in 1984. Precipitation for October came in at 0.84 inches, just 0.07 inches over the all-time mean. The all-time maximum precipitation occurred just last year (2016), with 3.98 inches; and back in 1978, October was totally dry. As I write this on Sunday, Nov. 5, I measured 2.5 inches of snowfall — the first of the 2017-18 winter season.

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