Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency Margee Chambers, (509) 477-4727, ext. 114,

Spokane Regional Health District Kim Papich, 509-324-1539; cell, 509-994-8968,

Washington State Department of Ecology (for air quality information outside of Spokane County) Jessica Payne, 360-407-6548; 

Air pollution from wildfires calls for special care

SPOKANE, Wash. -- July 8, 2015 -- Continued dry weather and winds from the northeast that have brought in smoke from the Cape Horn wildfire (Bayview, ID) over the last few days have prompted officials from Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air) to remind residents to take precautions to protect their health.

Air quality monitors across Spokane County are showing that levels of fine smoke particles are higher than a healthy level. As of 9:20 a.m. today, many of the monitors indicate air quality is unhealthy for sensitive people - orange on the Air Quality Index (AQI) or very high moderate - yellow on the AQI. Weather forecasts state continued winds from the northeast for several days. Spokane Clean Air expects air quality to remain high moderate or low unhealthy for sensitive groups through Thursday. Air quality may improve Friday with weather forecasts calling for change in wind direction.

"Wildfire smoke is affecting our air quality and weather forecasts indicate the air will not clear anytime soon, so this smoke will likely be around for a while," said Julie Oliver, executive director of Spokane Clean Air. "The severity of the smoke impacts depends on weather patterns. If the air isn't moving, the concentration of fine particles increases," added Oliver.

Smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles. Breathing smoke can make anyone sick. Even someone who is healthy can get sick if there is enough smoke in the air.

"Smoke from wildfires is especially harmful for those with health conditions like asthma. We recommend that people who are sensitive to poor air quality follow the breathing management plans, and keep medications on hand and contact their health provider if necessary," said Dr. Joel McCullough, SRHD health officer.

Children also are more susceptible to smoke because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults, and they're more likely to be active outdoors.

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

It's important that individuals limit their exposure to smoke - especially if they are susceptible. Here are some steps people can take to protect themselves from smoke:

  • Pay attention to air quality reports. The Air Quality Index (AQI) uses color-coded categories to report when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy.   
  • Use common sense. If it looks and smells smoky outside, it is probably not a good time to go for a jog, mow the lawn or allow children to play outdoors.
  • Individuals with asthma or other respiratory or lung conditions should follow their provider's directions on taking medicines. They should call their provider if symptoms worsen.
  • If a person has heart or lung disease, is an older adult, or has children, they should talk with their provider about whether and when they should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though a person may not see them.
  • Some room air cleaners can help reduce particulate levels indoors, as long as they are the right type and size for your home.
  • Paper "comfort" or "dust masks" are not the answer. The kinds of masks that people can commonly buy at the hardware store are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. But they generally will not protect lungs from the fine particles in smoke.
    • Respiratory masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection - they filter out some fine particles but not hazardous gases in smoke (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein.) This type of mask can be found at many hardware and home repair stores and pharmacies.

More information:

Spokane Current Air Quality webpage 

Spokane Regional Health District wildfire FAQ

Washington State Department of Health Wildfire Smoke webpage