Poor Air Quality in Spokane

Poor Air Quality in Spokane

Aug 17, 2015

Air Quality in the Spokane Area Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups

Pollution from wildfires calls for special care

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Aug. 17, 2015 -- Air quality continues to be impacted by regional wildfires and air pollution is expected to remain in the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" range for at least the next couple of days based on weather and smoke models. Officials from Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air) are urging residents to take precautions to protect their health.   

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

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. Air quality monitors are currently reporting levels that are "unhealthy for sensitive groups" or "orange" on the Air Quality Index (AQI).   

"Wildfire smoke continues to impact air quality and wind patterns suggest the next couple of days will be much of the same," said Julie Oliver, executive director of Spokane Clean Air. "The build up of the smoke locally is largely based on air flow. If the air isn't moving, the concentration of fine particles increases," added Oliver.   

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.


Media contacts: 

Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency:
Lisa Woodard, (509) 477-4727, ext. 115; cell, 509-863-2463; LWoodard@spokanecleanair.org   

Spokane Regional Health District:
Kim Papich, 509-324-1539; cell, 509-994-8968, kpapich@srhd.org   

Washington State Department of Ecology (for air quality information outside of Spokane County):
Jessica Payne, 360-407-6548; jessica.payne@ecy.wa.gov 

More information: 

Spokane Current Air Quality webpage 

Spokane Regional Health District wildfire FAQ   

Washington State Department of Health Wildfire Smoke webpage