The Air Quality Index (AQI) is reported multiple times daily by the use of a monitoring system set in place by the National Weather Service(NWS) to keep track of air pollution. According to the Department of Ecology State of Washington for the area between Spokane and Loon Lake, we have five main monitoring stations in our area that report the PM2.5 air quality. Closest to us is the Colbert-Greenbluff Rd station; in most cases, this will be the most accurate location for the Deer Park area. Since the Spokane station sits in a valley where smoke will often be trapped, numbers may vary slightly from that of the Colbert-Greenbluff Rd station; however, it will still be the most accurate AQI for the Deer Park area.
What is PM2.5?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website says, “PM stands for particulate matter (also called particle pollution): the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope. PM2.5 being the smallest of these particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller. To put this into perspective to the common man a single hair from your hair is 70 micrometers.” In the Inland Northwest, we commonly see PM2.5 mostly comprised of smoke in the air due to the wildfires in our area.
What do the AQI Category/color Codes Mean?
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a national air quality standard to protect public health. AQI ranges from 0 to 500 with the lower number being healthier air quality. Below is a reference chart of those ranges and their meanings. In the AQI categories it refers to sensitive groups which they define as people with heart or respiratory diseases, the elderly, pregnant women, and children.
https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi – Provided By: United States Environmental Protection Agency
Why should we be concerned about AQI?
When particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter are inhaled, they get deep into your lungs, and may even get into your bloodstream. Copious scientific studies have shown that particulate matter may affect both your lungs and your heart.
This can cause:
- Aggravated asthma
- Decreased lung function
- Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing, blood toxicity
- Blood coagulation abnormalities
- Heart disease, cardiotoxicity
- Severe irritation to the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the activity of the heart muscle
How can we reduce our exposure to PM2.5?
Stay informed by checking on air quality levels; a good website for that is Air Now at https://dpgazette.com/airnow, and burn bans at https://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/protection/firedanger/. Follow the government recommendations and restrictions. If the air quality level conditions are very unhealthy and hazardous, it is recommended that you stay inside, making sure that your windows and doors are tightly sealed, and limit your physical activity even when inside.
Wearing a mask will also help; however, not just any mask will do, and if you already have breathing problems you might need to talk to your doctor. Department of Health states that a one‐strap paper mask or surgical mask will NOT protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. It is important to also understand that to be effective, it needs to be graded N95, N99, or N100. The Department of Health has provided a Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks information sheet you can view at DPGazette.com/5. In some extreme cases, it is advisable to temporarily leave the area.
Please remember that just because you do not smell smoke, you still need to be cautious about the air quality during wildfire season.
Even when our air quality improves, there may be burn bans in effect, go to https://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/protection/firedanger/ for more information.