State Agencies highlight air quality concerns due to wildfires
HELENA – The Montana Departments of Public Health and Human Services and Environmental Quality are urging Montana residents and visitors to protect themselves from continued poor air quality due to wildfire smoke.
“The main public health message is to avoid prolonged exposure to smoke as much as possible,” said DPHHS state medical officer Greg Holzman. “Prolonged exposure can impact anyone’s health, especially those with compromised medical conditions. We are urging Montanans to pay close attention to public health messages as conditions change, and when advised, take extra safety measures.”
DPHHS offers several resources and recommendations the general public can follow to avoid prolonged exposure. www.dphhs.mt.gov
Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick if there is enough smoke in the air. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects myriad ways, including:
• Trouble breathing normally
• Stinging eyes
• Runny nose
• Irritated sinuses
• Wheezing and shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• An asthma attack
Older adults, pregnant women, children and people with pre-existing respiratory and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke.
The Department of Environmental Quality offers daily updates on wildfire smoke and air quality: www.todaysair.mt.gov
“We often see compromised air quality in the summer due to wildfire activity, but this year some areas of Montana are experiencing a longer duration of poor air quality conditions,” said Air Quality Bureau Chief Dave Klemp, “We don’t see an end to that anytime soon.”
The cold front that moved through yesterday has brought a brief period of improved air quality to many communities in Montana. Air quality in Seeley Lake is hazardous once again this morning due to the nearby Rice Ridge fire. A ridge of high pressure moving in for the weekend and next week will likely cause air quality impacts to become widespread once again, with the worst impacts expected near active fires each morning.
DPHHS and DEQ officials urge Montanans to adhere to county evacuation recommendations to ensure the health and safety of those being impacted.
In addition to the recommendations above, DPHHS offers these tips to help Montanans protect their health during fire season:
• Pay attention to local air quality reports. Watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Pay attention to public health messages and when advised, take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors. Go to www.todaysair.mt.gov for a link to air quality reports.
• Pay attention to visibility guides. Although not every community measures the amount of particles in the air, there are guidelines to help people estimate air quality based on how far they can see. Go to www.todaysair.mt.gov for a link to visibility guides.
• If you are told to stay indoors, stay indoors and keep your indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is very hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. Seek shelter elsewhere if you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed.
• Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke tobacco or other products, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
• Follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
• Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Surgical masks or dust masks commonly found at hardware stores trap large particles. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. If you decide to keep a mask on hand, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Filtering face-piece respirators and masks can make the work of breathing more difficult and can lead to increased breathing rates and heart rates. They can also contribute to heat stress. Because of this, respirator use by those with heart and respiratory diseases should only be done under a doctor’s supervision. A wet towel or bandana is not recommended either. While they may stop large particles, fine ones can still get into the lungs.
• Avoid smoke exposure during outdoor recreation. Before you travel to a park, forest or outdoor event, check air quality reports for the areas you are traveling to and confirm the event has not been cancelled.