Poor Air Quality Expected to Linger in SW Washington Through Tuesday


By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia is expected to contribute to poor air quality in Southwest Washington through the middle of next week, according to a news release from the Southwest Clean Air Agency.

According to information on the SWCAA’s website, air quality in Chehalis is classified as “unhealthy” due to the amount of fine particulate matter from smoke in the air.

“Many more people than average may have breathing problems or have worsened symptoms of existing lung or heart disease,” according to the SWCAA. “Everyone should limit time spent outdoors.”

The smoke can cause eye, nose and lung irritation and can contribute to breathing problems, according to the agency.

Due to air quality concerns throughout the region, the agency issued an air pollution advisory Wednesday for Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties.

The advisory is expected to last through Tuesday, Aug. 8.

“However, above-90 (degree) temperatures and wildfires which contribute to deteriorating air quality levels are expected to linger through next week,” according to a news release from SWCAA.

The agency gathers its data on air quality between Chehalis and Vancouver using nephelometers — or instruments that measure fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, in the air.

The devices — one of which sits on top of Chehalis City Hall — measure the parts per million (ppm), or micrograms per cubic meter, of fine particulate matter.

As of Friday morning, the Chehalis station reported 49.6 ppm of fine particulate matter.

The normal standard is 35 ppm, said Uri Papish of the SWCAA.

On Thursday afternoon, the reading was even higher, at 68.1 ppm.

“Pollution levels peak in the late afternoon and early evening,” according to the release from the SWCAA.

Much of the current pollution is coming from fires in British Columbia, Papish told The Chronicle.

According to information from the agency, air quality in Chehalis has hovered in the “unhealthy” category since Tuesday, and reached the “very unhealthy” stage briefly Wednesday night and early Tuesday morning.

The American Lung Association issued a warning Thursday, advising that the smoke, containing carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other elements, could be damaging to the health even of people with no preexisting lung disease.

“Most vulnerable to smoke exposure are babies, small children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with existing respiratory problems or heart disease,” a release from the organization states.

The association advises residents to stay indoors with windows and fireplace dampers shut. Home air conditions should be on the recirculation setting to prevent contamination with outside air.

Residents are also encouraged  to avoid any type of burning and limit using gas-powered engines or other smog-producing combustion engines.

For more information on air quality from the Southwest Clean Air Agency, go to swcleanair.org.