July 22, 2019

Summer air quality in Spokane can often be impacted by regional wildfires. This results in air pollution that is sometimes unhealthy for all. During times of poor air quality, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air) urge residents to understand the health risks associated with wildfire smoke and take precautions to protect their health.

Where can I get the most up-to-date air quality data for Spokane County?

Current air quality information is provided by Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency and updated every hour.

Statewide air quality information is available at Washington Smoke Blog.

What is wildfire smoke and can it make me sick?

Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials and other materials. Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, even someone who is healthy, if there is enough smoke in the air. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing normally
  • Stinging eyes
  • A scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • An asthma attack
  • Tiredness
  • Fast heartbeat

How can I limit my exposure to wildfire smoke?

  • When a wildfire occurs in your area, watch for local news or health warnings about smoke and air quality. Pay attention to local air quality reports and public health messages and take extra safety measures such as avoiding time outdoors. See resources on this page.
  • If it is recommended you stay indoors, keep your indoor air as clean as possible. Close windows and doors 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.
  • Reduce indoor pollution as much as possible when smoke levels are high. Limit use of anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces. Do not smoke tobacco or other products. Limit activities such as vacuuming, dusting and sweeping, that stir up particulates in your home. Avoid using fragranced air fresheners, cleaners or essential oils, as they may trigger asthma or allergies. Reduce cooking, which creates heat and fine particles.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s advice about medications and respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your provider if symptoms worsen.

Is it safe for children or teens to participate in outdoor recreation when air quality is poor?

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals...Populations at increased risk for severe respiratory problems from wildfire smoke include children and adolescents, especially when active. Children under the age of six are most at risk for experiencing severe respiratory problems from wildfire smoke. When air quality conditions deteriorate into "unhealthy" ranges, the best thing to do is limit outdoor exposure.

Guidance for Air Pollution and School Activities / Outdoor Sport Events

Will a mask protect me from wildfire smoke?

Staying indoors is the safest option, but if you must be outside for work or other reasons, a mask may offer some protection from smoke. Masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection — they filter out fine particles but not hazardous gases (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and acrolein). This type of mask can be found at many hardware and home repair stores and pharmacies. If you decide to keep a mask on hand, see the Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks information sheet (en español) view a video on how to properly wear the mask, and read these tips:

  • Choose an N95 or N100 mask that has two straps that go around your head. Do not choose a one-strap paper dust mask or a surgical mask that hooks around your ears — they will not protect you from the fine particles in smoke.
  • Choose a size that fits over your nose and under your chin. It should seal tightly to your face. These masks do not come in sizes that fit young children and do not seal properly.  They also do not work for men with facial hair.
  • Do not use bandanas or towels (wet or dry) or tissues held over the mouth and nose. These may relieve dryness, but they will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.
  • Anyone with lung or heart disease, or who is chronically ill, should check with their medical provider before using any mask. Using respirator masks can make it harder to breathe, which may make existing medical conditions worse. The extra effort it takes to breathe through a respirator mask can make it uncomfortable to use for very long. These masks should be used mostly by people who must go outdoors.

How do I use my mask?

Place the mask over your nose and under your chin, with one strap placed below the ears and one strap above. Adjust the mask so that air cannot get through at the edges.

  • Pinch the metal part of the mask tightly over the top of your nose.
  • The mask fits best on clean-shaven skin.
  • Throw away your mask when it gets harder to breathe through, if it gets damaged, or if the inside gets dirty. Use a new mask each day if you can.
  • It is harder to breathe through a mask, so take breaks often if you work outside.
  • If you feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, go to a less smoky area, take off your mask and get medical help if you do not feel better.

If you decide to keep a mask on hand, see the Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks information sheet (en español), and view a video on how to properly wear the mask.

I work outside all day. When it’s very smoky, does my employer have to provide me with a mask?

Employers are not required to provide masks, but you can still ask your employer to allow you to voluntarily wear one. If they allow it, they are required to provide information per WAC 296-842, Respirators. The right mask can provide some protection for some people for a limited time when it is not possible to stay indoors. Also, be sure to drink lots of water and check with your employer about taking more frequent breaks. Read this handout on Wildfire Smoke and Dust Masks, developed by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

The building I work in smells smoky. What can or should I do?

If there are concerns about indoor air quality in the workplace, check with your employer about keeping the air inside as clean as possible. The windows and doors should be kept closed. The building air conditioner should be used with the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. For concerns about wildfire smoke exposure in the workplace, see the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries page on wildfire smoke.

What if a wildfire threatens where I live or work?

  • Remain calm. Listen to the radio and television for fire reports and evacuation information.
  • Tell family and friends you may need to evacuate. Let them know where you are going.
  • Load your car with emergency supplies, important records and other valuables.
  • Put on protective clothing to protect your body, lungs and face.
  • Check your drinking water. Power outages and fluctuations in water pressure may affect drinking water systems.

What do I do if I’m advised to evacuate?

Only take what you really need, like your cell phone, medicines, identification (like a passport or license) and cash. An Evacuation Checklist provided by the American Red Cross can help in the event of an evacuation.

  • Make sure you have a car emergency kit.
  • If you have time, turn off the gas, electricity and water, and unplug your appliances.
  • Follow the roads that emergency workers recommend even if there's traffic. Other routes might be blocked.

What do the different evacuation levels indicate?

  • Level 1 evacuations are an alert. Residents should be aware of the danger that exists and monitor local media outlets for information. Residents with special needs, or those with pets or livestock, should take note and prepare for relocating family members, pets and livestock.
  • Level 2 evacuations indicate there is a significant risk to your area; residents should either voluntarily relocate to a shelter or with family/friends outside of the area or be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Level 3 evacuations mean danger is currently affecting your area or is imminent and you should leave immediately.

When is it safe to return home?

  • Do not enter your home until fire officials say it is safe.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.