As fire season sets in, keep an eye on the smoke


A chart at the site shows that the local air quality contained increasing smoke particles as the Willams Flats Fire burned on.

It's smoky outside, not as smoky as last year, but health experts advise being mindful of the amount of smoke in the air and how it affects you. Here are some tools to help with that.

On the Air Quality Index on, which uses a color-coded gradient that measures air pollution on a scale from 0-500, the Grand Coulee Dam area ranged from 139-153 as of 11:30 a.m. on August 6. AQIs of less than 100 are generally considered to be healthy.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Particulate Matter 2.5 scale measures the levels of  five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, by detecting particles that are 2.5 microns or less in width. A micron is one millionth of a meter., which shows the readings of their proprietary sensors around the world, including the Coulee area, describes the 101-150 range effect on health: "Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours. The general public is not likely to be affected."

Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

The description for the 151-200 range: "Everyone may begin to experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects."

The local readings, and thousands of others around the planet, are available online at, which publishes them on a clickable map. Four sensors in the Grand Coulee Dam area were added by weather hobbyist Bob Valen and the Grand Coulee Dam Rotary Club because the state of Washington would not install official sensors, which cost thousands more.

At this time last year, the AQI here was as high as 303 in the "very unhealthy" range, The Star reported last Aug. 8.

The smoke in the air isn't healthy to breathe, especially for children, the elderly or anyone with respiratory or cardiac issues, but even healthy people can be negatively affected by it, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Some symptoms from breathing in too many smoke particles can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, irritated eyes, and more. 

One affordable suggestion for cleaning the air in your home found on the internet is to buy a "MERV 13" or "FPR 10" furnace filter, said to cost about $15, and tape it to the back of a box fan.

That solution was found by researchers at the University of Michigan to take out about 90 percent of the smoke particles in the air.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency put one such homemade filter in a 14-foot by 14-foot room with all the windows and doors closed, KING5 News reported. "The filter dramatically decreased the amount of black carbon in the room within 30 minutes."

"These fan units filter fine particles and black carbon, which are common during wildfire or wood smoke events and can cause health impacts," the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency says on their website where they include instructions for the do-it-yourself air filter. "We have tested the performance of these filter fans and they dramatically reduce fine particles and black carbon from the air."

How to put up with smoke

Suggestions from the state Department of Health to minimize smoke exposure include:

• Check local air quality reports and listen to news or health warnings for your community.

• Avoid physical exertion outdoors if smoke is in the air.

• If you have asthma or other lung diseases, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and follow your asthma management plan. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen.

• Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible. Take the following steps when indoors: 

• Keep windows and doors closed. If there is no air conditioning and it is too hot to keep windows and doors closed, consider leaving the area.

• Run an air conditioner (if you have one), set it to re-circulate and close the fresh-air intake. Make sure to change the filter regularly.

• Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution. A HEPA filter may reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air. A HEPA filter with charcoal will help remove some of the gases from the smoke.

• Don't add to indoor pollution. Don't use candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Don't vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Don't smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

More information is available online at the Department of Health's website at, and many other websites.


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