Just how bad is the Puget Sound air? This map will tell you

Before you leave your home, check this interactive map that shows air quality levels throughout Western Washington. Scroll down below the map to see the latest headlines on the smoke, and a questions-and-answers section of what you should do to stay safe in these conditions. 

About this map: The below map provides data from the Washington State Department of Ecology. It was built by a group called PNW smoke cooperators, which is an effort by city, county, tribal, and federal agencies to aggregate smoke information.

Just how bad is this for my health? 

Here’s what to know now about the two different kinds of impacts: the separate risks associated with ash and smoke.

Does ash pose an additional health risk to the already lingering smoke?

Puget Sound Clean Air Quality scientist Phil Swartzendruber told KIRO 7 News that the ash is not a major health concern, like air quality conditions. Scroll down to keep reading. 

“There is a concern (with ash). Those larger particles – those can irritate the nose, throat and eyes,” Swartzendruber said. “They don’t have the same kind of health risk as the finer particles. The finer particles are really small, so small you can’t see them; they can go deeper into our lungs. They have much different set, and a more serious set, and pose a risk for cardiovascular disease and asthma.”

Swartzendruber had the following advice for people around smoke and ask: Take notice of what’s going on if you’re feeling symptoms like irritation and a place that has filtered air, like someplace indoors.

What are the kinds of health problems caused by wildfire smoke?

Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle &  King County explains exactly what these smoke conditions mean for your health.

Wildfire smoke contains small particles and other chemicals that irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. It can cause your eyes to burn and your nose run, and lead to wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and headaches. It can also aggravate existing lung, heart, and circulatory conditions, including asthma and angina.

Watch a video below about how people in the region are reacting. Scroll down to keep reading this Q&A. 

Who are in the groups that are more sensitive to wildfire smoke?

Breathing wildfire smoke isn’t healthy for anyone, and even healthy people can have symptoms when smoke levels are high. But it causes more problems for:

• Infants and children
• People with lung diseases (e.g., asthma, COPD, bronchitis, emphysema)
• People with respiratory infections (e.g., cold or flu)
• People with heart or circulatory problems, or who’ve previously had a heart attack or stroke
• Adults over age 65
• Smokers
• Diabetics
• Pregnant women

If you are in one of these groups, you should stay inside and keep indoor air as clean as possible. If you have asthma or other lung disease, make sure to follow your doctor’s directions about taking your medicines and follow your asthma management plan. Call your health care provider if your symptoms worsen.

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience heart or lung problems, and call 9-1-1 if symptoms are serious. The American Lung Association has also set up a free Lung HelpLine if you have concerns about your lungs from the smoke. To talk to respiratory therapists and registered nurses, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

What can everyone do to protect themselves from the smoke?

When the air quality is at unhealthy levels, avoid doing exercise or physical exertion outdoors.  It’s a good idea to check the air quality every day when smoke is present at one of the websites below.

As much as possible, stay indoors with the windows and doors closed. But with the current heat wave, it can be pretty uncomfortable if you don’t have air conditioning. If you are in one of the higher-risk groups, you could consider heading out of the area to a place that hasn’t been affected by wildfires, if that’s a possibility. You could also go to a place that has A/C, like a cooling center, indoor mall, a library, a community center, or the movies. If you have to drive, keep the windows and vents closed—most cars can re-circulate the inside air which will keep particle levels lower.

Drink plenty of water. Keeping hydrated reduces the amount of smoke that can travel deep into your lungs, so it helps keep you healthy with both the wildfires and the heat. 

What can you do to keep indoor air clean?

You can run an air conditioner if you have one, and set it to re-circulate. You should also close the fresh-air intake and change the filter regularly. Some room air cleaners can reduce indoor air pollution if they have the proper filter.  Our colleagues at the EPA say the most effective air cleaners have a HEPA filter which removes the fine particulates from smoke. Put the air filtration units in the room where you spend most of your time.

Below is a video on how you can make your own air conditioning unit. Scroll down to keep reading.

Should people wear face masks outdoors?

Don’t rely on paper dust masks for protection. They are designed for large particles, like sawdust, and won’t protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke. You can get some protection from respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 that filter out fine particles. But they don’t work for everyone because they don’t always create a good seal around an individual’s face. Anyone with lung disease, heart disease, or who is chronically ill should consult a health care provider before using a mask. Wearing a mask makes it more difficult to breathe, which may worsen existing medical conditions.

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